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Why Poorer States Aren't Buying What Romney's Selling

The Republican party appears to be increasingly divided among class lines.

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As the campaign’s sound and fury die down, one might wonder what remains of the GOP’s “Populist Moment.”

Like the frozen lava from past volcanic eruptions, the trained eye can easily perceive traces of the great explosion. Consider the two figures below. Figure 1 relates the percentage of the Romney vote in the GOP primaries to a measure of the strength of evangelical Protestantism in states. (Our measure relies on data from a religious census released in the year 2000 used in an earlier paper rather than voter self reports from polls.) The negative relationship is clear: votes for Romney, in the aggregate, fall as the percentage of evangelicals rises in states.

That is no surprise. Yet, as we look forward to the general election, there is a second relationship that is at least equally interesting. Many have noticed that within states, Romney does better in high-income areas. Figure 2 suggests that this relationship also holds between states: Romney’s voting percentage rises directly with a state’s median income. Or in other words, poor states find Romney resistible.

Social scientists and anyone who is inquisitive will naturally ask what happens if you consider both of these measures together. The answer, alas, is that with only 19 data points, you can’t say anything definitive. There is just not enough information to parse the importance of each. (In statistics, the problem is known as “multicollinearity.”)

But stopping there misses a key point, we think. The county maps and polls testifying to the importance of income in predicting the Romney vote within states (the latter have been oddly missing in some newspaper presentations) all suggest that the Republican Party is now divided fairly sharply along class lines as well as religious ones.

In the general election, this may be important. Right now GOP adherents are trumpeting their confidence that the “flock” (as many evangelical ministers might say) will all return to the fold, united in their desire to defeat President Obama. Many of them, in fact, are likely to do this. But we are hardly alone in observing that turnout in the GOP primaries has been mediocre. In a few states, turnout rose above the levels of 2008, but overall, turnout is down.

In the general election, moreover, Romney will have to reach well beyond his base, to independents and those less predisposed toward all things Republican. By contrast with past GOP nominees Romney’s appeal looks modest, limited largely to affluent voters. One may doubt that his endorsement of the Ryan budget will do much to broaden that appeal, either. To win in November, he is likely to need a stupefying large amount of money and a really good Etch-a-Sketch.

 

 
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