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Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do Expanded Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0691143934
ISBN-10: 0691143935
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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

As the 2008 election season reaches its peak, media pundits will speak gravely of the deep ideological divisions reflected in a political map of red and blue states, but according to Gelman (statistics & political science, Columbia Univ.), much of the analysts' glib assessments is misguided and does little to advance our understanding of why Americans have voted as they have. He crunched U.S. survey and election data as far back as 1952; compared his data where appropriate to similar data from Mexico, Canada, and other countries; and discovered that the economic status of individuals and the economic conditions of each state as a whole lead to two different conclusions: on the one hand, the less wealthy a voter is, the more likely the voter is to cast a ballot for a Democrat; the better-off the voter, the more likely he or she is to vote Republican. Yet states with a higher average income are more likely to support a Democratic presidential candidate. He discovered that wealthy voters in a poor state (e.g., Mississippi, with many poor) consistently support Republicans, while Connecticut, with many wealthy, regularly backs Democrats. Ohio is near the center of income distribution and alternates between the parties. This seeming paradox is lost on the media's talking heads because they focus only on the state-level data, leading them to the simplistic red-blue paradigm, ignoring the importance of individual voters' decisions. Gelman finds that the above relationships hold on a county level as well. After examining other factors such as religiosity and cultural values for clues to explain voting behavior, he offers suggestions about how the Democratic Party can improve its chances in the 2008 election. This is a fascinating, well-written, and thoroughly researched work that deserves a wide audience. Highly recommended for all libraries.—Thomas J. Baldino, Wilkes Univ., PA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Gelman and a group of fellow political scientists crunch numbers and draw graphs, arriving at a picture that refutes the [idea] . . . of poor red-staters voting Republican against their economic interests. Instead, Gelman persuasively argues, the poor in both red states and blue still mostly vote Democratic, and the rich, nationally speaking, overwhelmingly vote Republican."--Leo Carey, New Yorker

"Commentators on both the left and the right have theorized about why working-class Kansas farmers and latte-sipping Maryland suburbanites vote against their economic interests. . . . The real paradox, [Gelman] says, is that while rich states lean Democratic, rich people generally vote Republican; while poor states lean Republican, poor people generally vote Democratic."--Alan Cooperman, Washington Post Book World

"This is the Freakonomics-style analysis that every candidate and campaign consultant should read."--Robert Sommer, New York Observer

"Gelman works his way, state by state, to help us better understand the relationship of class, culture, and voting. The book is a terrific read and offers much insight into the changing electoral landscape."--Sudhir Venkatesh, Freakonomics blog

"[T]his book already analyzes far more data than do most. On that note, it is worth lauding another of this book's strengths: its rich graphical presentation of evidence. Its numerous figures often allow the reader to see the data and to draw one's own inferences, and they render the book accessible to those with little statistical training."--Gabriel S. Lenz, Public Opinion Quarterly

"Although the book is stronger on description than interpretation, it raises important questions and presents its findings in a clear and readable fashion that encourages replication, critique, and elaboration. . . . Red State, Blue State shows that much can be learned from applying serious quantitative analysis to popular ideas. It debunks popular misconceptions, but also reveals the limitations of most academic analyses."--David L. Weakliem, International Review of Modern Sociology

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; Expanded edition (December 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691143935
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691143934
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #380,459 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Stephen R. Laniel on October 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I like it when books make clear that there's a paradox in the everyday way we discuss things. In Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State, the paradox is as follows: rich people vote Republican, but rich states vote Democrat. Why is that?

Isn't that a lovely little problem? The answer is just as interesting: partisanship is much more important in poor states than it is in rich states. The poor in Texas and Mississippi are Democrat, while the rich are Republican. The poor and the rich in Connecticut -- the canonical other end of the wealth spectrum -- are about equally Democratic. Ohio, which is halfway between Mississippi and Connecticut on the income, is also divided in its party affiliation.

A host of questions fall out of this, among them: why, then, is Connecticut uniformly Democrat? To put it more precisely: why are the wealthy in Connecticut Democrats, where elsewhere they would be Republicans? Why are the wealthy Republicans? Why are the poor Democrats? And why does this partisan divide appear more in poor states than in wealthy ones?

The answers Gelman comes up with are quite interesting, but I'm not sure I'd recommend that you read this book to get them. Instead I might point you to Gelman's earlier paper, "Rich State, Poor State, Red State, Blue State: What's the Matter with Connecticut?". (The title is a hat tip to Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.) The paper is a quicker read, and as such doesn't feel quite as repetitive as the book.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Ed Wingenbach on September 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book for those interested in American politics and elections. While drawing heavily on the existing research in political science and advancing that research in significant ways, the book is written for a general audience. I found it refreshingly clear without dumbing down the material. I decided to use the book in my introductory level political science class this semester and my students have responded very well. They were excited by the argument and able to develop an understanding of how to do good research on political questions. The many graphic representations of data were particularly useful, as the students were able to use those graphs and charts to reconstruct Gelman's argument on their own, which made this an even more valuable learning experience.

This book advances an important argument, and should be required reading for journalists. Just last week I heard a talking head prattle on about rich people voting for democrats and poor people supporting republicans, something that, as Gelman shows definitively, is completely false. By removing this false assumption, Gelman is then able to show what's really going on in our polarized politics: cultural and religious differences among middle class and wealthy voters drive the red/blue division. His suggestions for how this information should be used by campaigns and researchers are useful.

In short, non-specialists and students will find this book engaging, accessible, and full of interesting and counter-intuitive arguments. Specialists should find the book useful for the compilation of data and previous research in one place, and if they teach political science will want to consider using this text in lower division American politics and methods courses.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Peter Flom on October 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The subtitle of this book is "Why Americans vote the way they do". It looks primarily at three influences: State and region; income; and religion. Gelman is fully capable of getting as math- and statistics-heavy as anyone. He is, after all, a professor of statistics. But in this book, he takes another path --- he lets all the technical details sit in the background and presents results using a lot of graphs, but minimal mathematics.

He punctures a number of myths.

Perhaps the most famous myth was part of a title of a book "What's the matter with Kansas?" which posited that Kansans vote against their own economic interest because of disagreement with the Democrats o social issues. In fact, wealthier Kansans vote Republican, poorer Kansans vote Democratic. Further, that same pattern (the wealthier you are, the more likely you are to vote Republican) happens in *all* states.

But there's more.

The very first words in the introduction are a quote from Tucker Carlson to the effect that wealthy people, particularly those with incomes over $100,000, vote Democratic. Strictly speaking, Carlson is wrong. Rich people tend to vote Republican (and this trend is more in evidence at incomes below about $100,000 ... that is, people who earn $100,000 are *much* more likely to vote R than those who earn $50,000; peoploe who earn $200,000 are still more likely, but the difference between 200K people and 100K people is smaller than that between 100K and 50K). Gelman is kinder, and calls Carlson 'half right' because rich *states* vote Democratic more than poor states do.

Open the book to almost any page, and you're likely to find something interesting: On page 47, for instance, he compares Southern and non-Southern states and voters over time.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By C. P. Anderson on November 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This review is really just a warning for those of you out there who, based on this book's catchy title, might think it's another Blink, Nudge, Click, etc. It is most definitely not. There is a LOT of data here, and it's not always discussed in the friendliest fashion possible. Yes, there is tons of interesting stuff, but it's really not very accessible.

The writer's style seems to be one of an academic trying to write a popularization. Lots of stops and starts, lots of digressions, lots of repetition, lots of half-digested material. Flow seemed to be the biggest problem, with the author introducing one chart after another, but with very little feel for identifying an argument and advancing it forward.

Overall, very interesting data, but very poor writing.
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