Sinners, Red States, Blue States

Mitt Romney, presidential candidate, said in now-infamous comments that 47% of the American electorate is dependent on the federal government, that he will never be able to teach them to take personal responsibility for their lives, and that they are certain to vote for Barack Obama in November. He continues a tradition in his party that goes back at least three decades: building political campaigns around the proposition that folks in the heartland exhibit the American virtues of self sufficiency and personal responsibility and the implication that other, more urban, regions display decadent social values and dependency on government.

It is a good general rule to judge individuals on their own merits and not on the supposed attributes of the racial, socioeconomic or geographic groups to which they belong. Cultural generalizations are dangerous. But since questions have been raised, the fearless social scientist will not shrink from confronting them. Are residents of “red states,” who tend to vote Republican, indeed more likely to take responsibility for their personal behavior than those who live in “blue states” and tend to vote Democratic?

Inspired by the role that religion plays in the red-state view of the world, I will organize the investigation in terms of the Seven Deadly Sins: Greed, Gluttony, Lust, Sloth, Wrath, and so on. We will see that measures of these “sins,” state-by-state, bear a statistical relationship with voting patterns - but not the relationship that many assume. (For data sources and econometric details, see the statistical appendix at my website.)

1) Greed The red states receive more federal spending, relative to taxes, than the blue states, as I wrote in a 2010 blog post. Updated data show that the pattern continues. Those who claim to be fiscally conservative are the ones who in truth tend to feed the most voraciously at the federal trough. Alaskans are the most dependent on the federal government, receiving $7,448 in spending (net of taxes) per capita. New England, the Mid-Atlantic States, Minnesota and Illinois are the biggest net givers. Regarding Romney’s specific ”47%” allegation: the states with high percentages of people who pay no income tax tend to vote Republican, not Democratic.