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Sunday, April 25, 2010

A different definition of "Blue State"

From the Bureau of Economic Analysis comes a report on local personal income. The report includes a picture of the US counties shaded by their quintile of income growth (blue is highest/most growth and yellow is lowest/least growth):



Juxtapose that picture with the typical red state - blue state map:



The ocular-estimator suggests that those counties that were performing worse on the run-up to the election voted in favor of Obama (or change, or whatever). On the other hand, there was not much difference in the 2008 election than the 2004 election (only a few states "flipped"). So one wonders if the causation runs the other way - counties in states that vote Democrat perform worse rather than poor-performing counties voting Democrat.

I am sure there is a literature on this - so it is not a lead-pipe lock for a masters thesis topic, but it looks pretty good.

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Comments:
1. Weren't you talking recently about cherry picking data that doesn't really have much relevance to the real question? Levels matter! Just because you have low growth, doesn't mean you're "doing worse" on the whole. Maybe the current well-performing "red" states are partly doing "well" in terms of growth because they didn't have far to fall.
2. Might you have the tail wagging the dog?
3. Assuming that you're right, isn't it simply rational for poor folks to vote Democratic?
4. There is literature on this, a good primer is "Rich State Poor State, Red State Blue State" by Andrew Gelman.
 
1. Levels matter, I agree, but so too might differences. The politicians talk as if differences (absolute or percentage) seem to matter. My guess is that, ceteris paribus on levels, states that experience greater increases in personal income tend to vote more for incumbents/incumbent parties, but that is an empirical question.

2. Hence my statement about the direction of causation being uncertain - but testable.

3. This seems to confuse levels (poor) with differences. However, that is what I think is an interesting hypothesis - if levels matter to voting patterns (which I think is fairly well established) then what about first differences?

4. I was confident of the literature on the impact of levels on voting patterns, most famously (for presidential politics the Faire model), but didn't know if anyone had looked at differences.

I find the correlation/causation meme to be interesting - and that was my point in the post. Here is another interesting (visual) correlation that might also suggest causation. An empirical question in the end.
 
This could also be (Solow growth model) convergence.

So ... does that mean that the Democrats are against convergence? I don't think their poor constituents would like that.
 
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