There’s Nothing the Matter with Kansas

Andrew Gelman in The Wichita Eagle:

[T]hough, Kansas has consistently voted Republican for more than 70 years, and a look at exit poll data shows that the richer you are in the state, the more likely you are to vote Republican. In 2004, George Bush received half the vote of low-income Kansans, but more than 80 percent of the vote of those in the state whose incomes were higher than $100,000.

And Kansas is far from unique. Over the past decades, rich voters have remained consistently more Republican than voters on the lower end of the income scale. At the national level, if poor people were a state, they would be “bluer” even than Massachusetts; if rich people were a state, they would be about as “red” as Alabama, Kansas, the Dakotas or Texas. Further data comes from the political contributions of top executives and the richest Americans, who favored Bush over John Kerry 3-to-1 in 2004.

The myth of rich Democrats and poor Republicans is sustained in part by the electoral map, which shows — for real — that Democrats are now winning in the rich states such as Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut. But winning rich states is not the same as winning rich voters.

We’ve been hearing for a while about the cultural divide between Wal-Mart Republicans and Starbucks Democrats. A more accurate description of voters distinguishes more subtly between rich and poor. Among upper-middle-class and rich voters, rich states go Democratic while poor states go Republican. But among lower-income voters, rich and poor states do not vote differently. The differences between “red states” and “blue states” are real, but these differences occur among rich voters, not poor voters.

What is going on? Why is it the rich, not the poor, who seem to be voting based on cultural factors?