The geography of American conservatism

Self-described conservatives outnumber liberals in 49 states, according to Gallup.  That’s true even in the state colored light green on the map—all except Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia.  Strangely, the poorest states are the most conservative.  Liberals are strongest in states whose residents contribute the most in federal taxes in comparison to the benefits they receive; conservatives are strongest in states who benefit the most from federal programs in comparison to the taxes they pay.

There are 26 states in which more than 40 percent of those polled by Gallup call themselves conservatives, including three (Mississippi, Utah and Wyoming) in which conservatives are more than 50 percent).  In no state do self-described liberals get above 40 percent, and only in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia do they get above 30 percent.

New York state, where I live, is one of the more liberal states.  It is five to three Democratic in registration and gives President Obama a net favorable approval rating.  Yet in a Gallup poll, self-described conservative New Yorkers outnumber self-described liberals, 32 percent to 26 percent.  (An additional 37 percent of New Yorkers polled told Gallup they are moderates.)

Gallup’s data indicate that:

• Conservative states are considerably more religious than liberal-leaning states, and the correlation between conservatism and religion is increasing.

• Conservative states have a smaller proportion of college graduates, a larger concentration of blue-collar workers and a smaller concentration of “creative” and “knowledge” workers.

• States with more conservatives are less diverse.  They have a smaller percentage of immigrants or of gays and lesbians.  However, it doesn’t seem to matter one way or the other what percentage of the population is black, white or Hispanic.

• States with more conservatives are considerably less affluent than those with more liberals.  Conservatism is correlated with lower state income levels and even more so with lower average hourly earnings.

Within states, the higher-income people tend to be economic conservatives and social liberals and the lower-income people tend to be economic liberals and social conservatives.

My guess is that the Gallup respondents defined themselves in terms of social issues rather than economic issues.  That is because they are offered a meaningful choice on issues such as gay marriage, abortion rights, prayer in the public schools and the like.  On economic issues, not so much.  Liberal Democrats are as much in thrall to Wall Street as conservative Republicans.  Neither faction offers any hope of doing anything about outsourcing, downsizing, foreclosures, declining wages or other material concerns of average Americans.  Only in the so-called moral and cultural issues is there a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties.

We don’t know that average-income voters necessarily consider social issues more important than economic issues.  They might or might not, if given a choice, but they are not given that choice.

The next charts show how ideological differences among the states and among voters within states.

Double click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

Click on Mississippi Most Conservative State, D.C. Most Liberal for Gallup’s report on its polling.

Click on Why America Keeps Getting More Conservative for Richard Florida’s analysis in The Atlantic.

Click on Is America Becoming More Conservative? Why? for discussion on Barry Ritholtz’s The Big Picture web log.

Click on Provoking me to unleash the usual torrent of graphics for Andrew Gelman’s comments and charts on the differences between the states and the differences among voters within different states.

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3 Responses to “The geography of American conservatism”

  1. Anne Tanner Says:

    It doesn’t strike me as odd that the poor are more conservative. In recent years, liberals haven’t been interested in helping them any more than the conservatives were. They probably get the same phone calls I do, asking them to fork up $100 for some Congressional campaign, and they realize immediately that this K Street caller doesn’t know them, doesn’t care about them, and wants to take their money. The gigantic income disparities across the country will result in revolution, eventually.


  2. Atticus Finch Says:

    I’m always disappointed in Georgia. I guess because I surround myself with mostly progressives and a lot of open minded kind of people I’m always surprised when the State votes for the most rediculous of the GOP candidates.


    • LR Says:

      Georgia is very conservative. There’s not many progressive, open-minded people at all. People there kick progressive, open-minded liberals to the curb so easily.


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