The Conservative States of America

After noting the increasing political conservatism of people in the poorer states, Richard Florida writes:

The current economic crisis only appears to have deepened conservatism’s hold on America’s states. This trend stands in sharp contrast to the Great Depression, when America embraced FDR and the New Deal.
Liberalism, which is stronger in richer, better-educated, more-diverse, and, especially, more prosperous places, is shrinking across the board and has fallen behind conservatism even in its biggest strongholds. This obviously poses big challenges for liberals, the Obama administration, and the Democratic Party moving forward.
But the much bigger, long-term danger is economic rather than political. This ideological state of affairs advantages the policy preferences of poorer, less innovative states over wealthier, more innovative, and productive ones. American politics is increasingly disconnected from its economic engine. And this deepening political divide has become perhaps the biggest bottleneck on the road to long-run prosperity.

What are my thoughts on this?

First, I think Obama would be a lot more popular had he been elected in 1932, rather than 1930.

Second, transfers from the richer, more economically successful states to the poorer, less developed states are not new. See, for example, this map from 1924 titled “Good Roads Everywhere” that shows a proposed system of highways spanning the country, “to be built and forever maintained by the United States Government.”

minimap.jpg

The map, made by the National Highways Association, also includes the following explanation for the proposed funding system: “Such a system of National Highways will be paid for out of general taxation. The 9 rich densely populated northeastern States will pay over 50 per cent of the cost. They can afford to, as they will gain the most. Over 40 per cent will be paid for by the great wealthy cities of the Nation. . . . The farming regions of the West, Mississippi Valley, Southwest and South will pay less than 10 per cent of the cost and get 90 per cent of the mileage.” [emphasis added] Beyond its quaint slogans (“A paved United States in our day”) and ideas that time has passed by (“Highway airports”), the map gives a sense of the potential for federal taxing and spending to transfer money between states and regions.

Andrew Gelman

Andrew Gelman is a professor of statistics and political science and director of the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia University.