CAMBRIDGE – The political fallout from Mitt Romney’s characterization of 47% of the American electorate as “victims” who are “dependent on government” and refuse to take “personal responsibility” for their lives demonstrates anew that cultural generalizations, particularly in politics, are usually dangerous. In fact, Romney appears to have categorized a large segment of his party’s own voters as supporters of President Barack Obama.
As a rule, one should judge people on their merits, not on the supposed attributes of the racial, socioeconomic, or geographic groups to which they belong. Yet statistical relationships sometimes are so strong that it is worth pondering their significance.
In the United States, a distinction is frequently drawn between citizens of “red states,” which usually vote for the Republican Party, and those of “blue states” – concentrated in the Northeast, the upper Midwest, and the Pacific coast – which usually vote for the Democratic Party.
The unspoken truth is that, compared to “blue-staters,” those who live in red states exhibit less responsibility, on average, in their personal behavior: they are less physically fit, less careful in their sexual behavior, more prone to inflict harm on themselves and others through smoking and drinking, and more likely to receive federal subsidies.