on October 13, 2008
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.
on September 22, 2008
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.
on October 14, 2008
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. Here we learn, e.g., that the gap between rich voters and poor voters in terms of voting Republican has been growing since 1960 (when it was 0), and that it is growing much faster in the South than elsewhere.
On page 84, we learn that, in poorer states, rich people tend to be more religious than poor people (most true in SD, AR, and AL), while in rich states, rich people tend to be *less* religious (most true in NJ and NY)
On page 126, he graphs split ticket voting over time -- it rose from the late 1950s to mid 1970s, peaking at almost 30%, and declined since then -- in 2004 it was a little under 20%.
On page 151 he analyzes how he thinks Kerry and Bush should have shifted their economic positions to maximize their share of the vote.
In short, this is the kind of thought-provoking book that a lot of people here would love. Clearly, this book is for people who like numbers and graphs --- but, again, you do *not* need to know a lot of math to read it, there are no formulas, and the most advanced statistic used is 'correlation'.
on November 10, 2008
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.
on October 14, 2008
Gelman challenges what is increasingly the cliched way of viewing American politics--latte drinking, relatively well off Democrats vs. Wal-Mart, religious, working class Republicans. He instead offers clear data that demonstrates that most people on the poorer end of the political spectrum vote for Democrats, while most wealthier people vote Republican. So why the pattern of wealthier blue states and poorer red states? In blue states, a substantial portion of wealthier people vote Democratic, while in red states, most wealthier people stick with the Republicans. Thus in blue states, income doesn't predict all that well who you are going to vote for, while in Red states it does. My first intuition, when faced with this pattern, was to presume that it could be explained in good part by race, i.e. poorer people in red states like Mississippi are often African Americans, who vote heavily Democratic. But Gelman presents evidence that this is not the entire explanation. Notwithstanding everything you may have heard, poorer whites in these states tend to vote Democratic as well (albeit not in as high numbers as African Americans). The culture/taste wars between abortion rights, gay marriage, NPR vs. megachurches and Fox news is mainly being played out among the middle class and wealthy, who are sorting themselves into red and blue counties, and Republicans and Democrats, labels which are more meaningful than they used to be regarding ones social/cultural vision for the country. This is extremely interesting and useful to know, but beyond this point (restated and turned around many times), the book does not have much depth. There is virtually no ethnographic detail, only conclusions drawn from polls (and even those aren't all that fine-grained). To his credit, Gelman examines voting patterns in Mexico as well (American social scientists, and journalists are notorious for analysing the US in a vacuum). But this chapter fails to make much of an impact. Mexico votes in a perhaps less unexpected manner--the wealthier north goes conservative, while the poorer states of the south vote for the left party; but this probably has much to do with the more substantial economic policy differences between the parties in Mexico compared to the US. There is no detailed analysis of the political evolution of particular states in the US. He also tends to leave things at wealthier and poorer voters, without looking at more specific income groups or professions, or considering factors like union membership. If you are skeptical about this analysis, or wish to be clear on how Gelman arrived at his conclusions, by all means read the book. Otherwise you can probably glean enough of the analysis from this and other customer reviews.
on October 26, 2008
"Red State, Blue State" starts with an often under-reported paradox: wealthy states vote Democratic whereas wealthy people vote Republican. It then proceeds to explore this paradox from every angle possible using polling data.
My background is data mining. What impresses me most about "Red State, Blue State" is the way it effectively communicates results in understandable ways, particularly using charts rather than complicated formulas. It is not a book about innuendo, selected examples, or technical bravado. It is a book about effectively communicating the results of innumerable polls and many elections to understand a paradox.
The book is divided into three parts. The first introduces the problem, leading up to a chapter on how pundits -- both on the left and the right -- can be so confused. Chapter 3 introduces the idea of the "ecological fallacy", which is the tendency to take summarized information (say, poor states vote Republican -- which tends to be true) and to apply it to individuals (say poor people vote Republic -- which tends to be false).
The second dives into the issue in more detail, both historically and geographically. It is highly unusual to see authors attempt to apply theories about US politics to other countries. This is a daring approach, since most American readers will not find it relevant.
The final section discusses what it all means, particularly the importance of party stances on economic issues versus social issues.
I do not agree with every conclusion in the book. In particular, I feel that the data provides more support for the Republicans "southern strategy" than the authors do. In addition, there is one area where I believe the book could have gone into more detail, and that is the role of turnout in presidential elections.
Prof. Gelman (who is a renown statistician at Columbia University) and his coauthors do an excellent job exploring the relationships between the outcome of elections and individuals, states, and other geogrphic regions. At just over 200 pages, it is definitely worth reading.
on December 16, 2010
Andrew Gelman and colleagues (Gelman, Park, Shor, Baumi, & Cortina, 2008) use a method of number crunching, to blast the political myths of the great divide. Gelman et al., examine another stereotype: that the rich vote Republican and the poor Democrat. In this vein, rich states should be Republican and poor states Democrats. But, these authors point out the paradox, that in both the 2000 and 2004 Presidential elections, Democrats captured the richer Northeaster and West Coast States, while Republicans won the poorer states. Gelman et al. underscore that these first glance conclusions are shallow in nature. They argue that the Red/Blue divide and paradox may boil down to ideology rather than social class or economic demographics. Democrats and Republicans are divided on the issues of abortion, gun control, and the Iraq war, by their analysis. Americans are not viewed as becoming more dogmatic or extremist in their views, but more coherent in terms of party selection. This view argues that for the Democrat or Republican candidate to win there are certain litmus test issues that must be passed. Gelman et al. voice their frustration at the forwarding of a false polarization by journalists who should know how to interpret voting trends in more sophisticated ways than sound bite media flashes. They show that there are demographic trends present, that these seems to be most apparent at the higher income level, with educated professionals moving towards the Democrats and business owners moving in the Republican direction; it is not, in their view, a simple class contrast. Gelman et al. acknowledge that polarization serves a useful function that is in terms of "branding" a political party. They argue that polarization is not one phenomenon, but three distinct, though overlapping constructs.
A very good and a must read if you are into this sort of stuff like I am.
Author "Totally American"
Totally American: Harnessing the Dynamic Duo of Optimism and Resilience to Achieve Success
The catchy title made me pick Red State, Blue State up. But it seems that you can't judge a book by its title any more than its cover. There's not much catchy about the writing in this book. Solid but stodgy, the book reads like a textbook. Lots of information, but as written better referenced than read.
Political science students or teachers will probably get more out of Red State, Blue State than a casual reader, though the basic premise should interest most people. Its author, Andrew Gelman, poses a paradox -- poor people tend to vote Democratic, and rich people Republican, no matter where they live. Yet rich states vote Democratic, and poor states Republican. Why?
Several reasons drive this paradox, and Gelman analyzes them. The upshot is that the better-off in the rich states tend to vote more Democratic than the better-off in the poor states. That makes the rich states blue and the poor states red.
While that explains the paradox, why do rich-state rich people shift Democratic? That requires more explanation, which Gelman delivers. He gives lots of data, has lots of charts, and looks at lots of polling and recent election results to develop his themes.
Politics interest me, but only as an observer. That kind of interest kept me going through the first quarter of the book. Then my interest waned, and I just skimmed the rest. Since this book is rather short, many general readers may find the book's price steep for them. A student or teacher, used to textbook prices, may find the book a bargain.
(While on polling rather than political divisions, the book The Opinion Makers caught my interest much more than Red State, Blue State.)
on October 25, 2008
At a time when we are on the precipice of deciding who will become our next president, Andrew Gelman and his associates have delivered a terrific new book about recent voting patterns, demographics of all sorts and how states and their people vote, vis-a-vis the economy and other issues. It's less of a prediction about what happens next but as an analysis it's worth every page. As a narrative it's a slog.
Challenging a mere red state/blue state divide, the authors provide candor as to how and why we vote. As a resident of Connecticut, that pocket of insularity in the northeast, I was happy that Gelman countered the Thomas Frank book, "What's the Matter with Kansas", substituting Connecticut in its place. Decision-making about voting is a complex matter and the authors do a good job at its explanation. I recommend it but only wish it had been more readable.
on September 3, 2008
I read this book as a psychologist who is familiar with Gelman's work in statistics, and so if this book had been written by someone else, I never would have noticed it. I thought it had a lot of great insights, and a lot of very clever ways of thinking about how to analyze political (or any) data. The book is not full of numbers, in fact I don't think there is a single table of numbers in it - everything is done with graphs.
Occasionally I would have liked more information on the analysis techniques used, but I realize I'm probably in a minority.