The Agenda

The Ideology of the Economically Left Behind

Richard Florida writes:


Conservatism, at least at the state level, appears to be growing stronger. Ironically, this trend is most pronounced in America’s least well-off, least educated, most blue collar, most economically hard-hit states. Conservatism, more and more, is the ideology of the economically left behind.  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.

This strikes me as a peculiar analysis, particular since Florida cites Andrew Gelman earlier in the piece:

States with more conservatives are considerably poorer than those with more liberals.  Conservative political affiliation is highly negatively correlated with income ( -.65) and even more so with hourly earnings (-.79). Columbia University’s Andrew Gelman’s influential book Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State sheds light on this phenomenon. While rich voters trend Republican, Gelman and his colleagues found, rich states trend Democratic. [Emphasis added.]

So why would we choose states rather than individuals as the appropriate level of analysis? Couldn’t we just as easily say that liberalism is the ideology of the economically left behind, i.e., voters in the bottom third of the income distribution, the long-term unemployed, etc.? And would this be a case against liberalism in itself? The idea strikes me as more than a little discomfiting. Among the most wealthy, innovative, and productive individuals, libertarian views, of a leftish or rightish flavor, are overrepresented. Should we thus conclude that the fact that our political system is dominated by decidedly unlibertarian voices represents a bottleneck on the road to long-run prosperity?

Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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