Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Examining the relationship between economic inequality and voting preferences

Matthew Yglesias has just recently written what I consider to be a refreshingly provocative post for his blog - currently hosted by the progressive think tank The Center for American Progress, based in DC.

In his blog post, Yglesias links to former Bush political advisor and proud Neoconservative David Frum's most recent article which appeared in the September 7th, 2008 issue of the New York Times. Frum's article is entitled "The Vanishing Republican," and it really merits a good deal of very close attention being provided by the child's father, mother and legal guardian.

Check out this great excerpt from Frum's NYT piece:
Republican economic management since 2001 has not yielded many benefits for middle-income America. Adjusting for inflation, the incomes of college graduates actually dropped by 5 percent between 2000 and 2004 — and 44 percent of the people of Prince William are college graduates. Prince William is also ground zero for the middle-class revolt against the Bush administration’s easy immigration policies. An estimated 10 million migrants have entered the United States since 2000, at least half of them illegally, and few places in the United States have reacted more angrily than Prince William County. Last year, the Prince William Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to require the local police to check the immigration status of all arrested persons.

It’s widely understood that abundant low-skilled immigration hurts lower America by reducing wages. As the National Research Council noted in its comprehensive 1997 report: “If the wage of domestic unskilled workers did not fall, no domestic worker (unskilled or skilled) would gain or lose, and there would be no net domestic gain from immigration.” In other words, immigration is good for America as a whole only because — and only to the extent that — it is bad for the poorest Americans. Conversely, low-skilled immigration enriches upper America, lowering the price of personal services like landscaping and restaurant meals. And by holding down wages, immigration makes the business investments of upper America more profitable.

Middle-class Americans surely share in the cost-lowering benefits of immigration. But the middle class also pays the higher local tax bills that can result from immigration. Immigrants do not qualify for many federal benefits, but they do use the roads, schools, hospitals and prisons supported by state and local property taxes — the taxes that fall most disproportionately on the middle class.

It is also clear that immigration thickens the ranks of the American poor. The poverty rate for post-1970 immigrants and their native-born children is almost 50 percent higher than for the native born. (In 1970, established immigrants were much less likely to be poor than the native born.) No mystery why this should be so: one-third of adult new immigrants have not finished high school. And there is reason to fear that this poverty will become entrenched: barely half of Latino students complete high school on time; 48 percent of births to Latino women occur outside marriage.

Going back to Yglesias' original blog post, his analysis provides some very important new insights, such as:
Quantitatively, “the Democrats’ vote share by state is slightly correlated with income inequality, but much less than the correlation with income itself.” High levels of in-state inequality seem to be correlated with high levels of immigration (I assume that part of the story is immigration causing inequality and part of the story is that the immigrants are going to places where there are very rich people and, therefore, jobs to be had servicing them) which, in turn, is only pretty loosely associated with Democrats doing well.

Several commenters over at Yglesias' original blog post have added some additional valuable comments (and criticisms) of his analysis. For example. one commenter wrote that:
Frum’s thesis applies to cities and counties. It makes no sense on a statewide basis. Remember the county-by-county voting maps from the past two presidential elections — each a sea of red with blue urban enclaves? It’s those blue cities and counties where there is the greatest inequality, like the specific examples he discusses.

At first glance it would seem that high income equality in Democratic states would reflect badly on the Democrats. But yes, high levels of immigration and urbanisation seem to be the deciding factors here, urbanisation being the one Matt doesn’t mention. Big cities tend toward having more unequal populations, and the urban poor by a massive margin vote democratic, outweighing the votes of the rich, republican leaning urban elite. It has nothing to do with Democratic policy at a state level.

And finally, for those readers who want to gain an advanced understanding of the myriad statistical relationships that exist between voting patterns and economic insecurity, Columbia professor of Statistics and Political Science Andrew Gelman's has conducted a great deal of quantitative, eye-opening research on how the increased widening of systemic economic inequality in the US both informs and impacts on the complex decision-making models developed by the voting public to inform their decisions of which politician(s) to cast their vote for. You can read the entire blog here.

Update: Ezra Klein has a few thoughts of his own regarding another, smaller editorial written by Frum that is entitled "Palin's Working Class Appeal"; it was published in The Week Magazine six days ago. Writing in his eponomous blog, which is published by the liberal magazine The American Prospect, Klein's post "Class, Racism and Voting" takes issue with some of Frum's more provocative conclusions:
[W]hat Frum is offering as a class divide is, at times, a racial divide, or at least the enduring legacy of a racial divide. The societal insecurities that Frum thinks Democrats play into may have something to do with education, but they have a lot more to do with a lingering resentment that pointy-headed Democrats think they know what's best for the South, which is the direct descendant of a period when Democrats did think they knew what was best for the South, and that was integration, and the South didn't agree. Over time, it became untenable to express that conflict in racial terms, and it got folded into a more sterile and broad-based attack on Democrats for being elitist, or cosmopolitan, or another word that suggests contempt for traditional American ways, which has the virtue of occasionally being true. But not always.

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