Nine of the 10 states with the highest median household incomes in America voted for Barack Obama in 2008. (The exception was Alaska, whose governor was the Republican candidate for vice president.) That trend holds this year (except Virginia and New Hampshire are currently toss-ups). Nine of the 10 poorest states are solidly Republican – both in 2008 and today. New Mexico is the sole blue exception. The other nine are rural, southern states. All 10 states receive far more in federal payments than they pay in federal taxes.
But why do poor states overwhelmingly support candidates whose policies favor economic inequality, while rich states vote for higher taxes and more government?
False consciousness? Karl Marx wrote that, because the powerful control the public conversation, they can induce the working class to vote against its own interests. But that doesn’t explain the behavior of the rich states.
The help? Are servants outvoting their employers in Greenwich and Palm Springs? But the domestic vote isn’t what it used to be.
I think the explanation is historical: With the break-up of the New Deal coalition came the rise of third-party movements (Strom Thurmond in 1948, George Wallace in 1968) that led white southerners out of the Democratic party. Nixon’s “southern strategy,” and “Reagan Democrats” realigned the parties around social and cultural issues: abortion, guns, evolution, environmentalism – and, let’s be candid, race.
Far from the distractions people try to make them, these are the issues over which this election is being contested.
Richest States 1968 Vote Poorest States 1968 Vote
10. California DEM 10. Oklahoma GOP
9. Delaware DEM 9. South Carolina GOP
8. Hawaii DEM 8. New Mexico DEM
7. Virginia DEM 7. Louisiana GOP
6. New Hampshire DEM 6. Tennessee GOP
5. Massachusetts DEM 5. Alabama GOP
4. Connecticut DEM 4. Kentucky GOP
3. New Jersey DEM 3. Arkansas GOP
2. Alaska GOP 2. West Virginia GOP
1. Maryland DEM 1. Mississippi GOP