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Origins of Blue State Culture

Hal Varian writes about an article forthcoming in the *Journal of Economic Perspectives: Ed Glaeser and Bryce Ward on American political geography:

Red States, Blue States: New Labels for Long-Running Differences - New York Times: A recent working paper, "Myths and Realities of American Political Geography," by two Harvard University economists, Edward L. Glaeser and Bryce A. Ward, challenges this conventional wisdom http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=874977.... [D]ifferences in political attitudes across states are nothing new: the Civil War and Roaring Twenties had much larger geographic variation in political views than we do today.... America is not becoming more polarized. Of course, Republicans have a more positive view of the Republican Party than the Democratic Party, and vice versa, but attitudes have hardly changed since 1978.... Thirty years ago, income was a better prediction of party affiliation than church attendance, but this is no longer true....

These cultural divisions have been around for a long time. In the 1936-37 Gallup poll, residents of New England and the Middle Atlantic states were far more likely than citizens elsewhere to support federally financed health measures aimed at venereal disease, to support a free press and to be willing to vote for Catholic or Jewish candidates.... It turns out that the degree of industrialization 85 years ago is an "astonishingly good predictor of Democratic support" among today's voters, as is the fraction of the population that is foreign-born.

But the biggest effect seems to be the correlation between religion and Republicanism. Among white voters who attend religious services at least once a week, 71 percent voted Republican in the last election, according to the Pew survey...

Here are Glaeser and Ward:

The extent and permanence of cultural divisions across space is one of America’s most remarkable features.... [I]n... April 2004... twenty-three percent of respondents in Oregon, Washington and California thought that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11, 2001, attacks. Forty-seven percent of respondents in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas had that view. In the 1987-2003 PEW Values surveys, 56 percent of Mississippi residents think that AIDS is God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior. Only 16 percent of Rhode Island residents share that view....

We find little support for the belief that these cultural differences represent long-standing differences in religiosity or the legacy of slavery. Instead... Blue State culture reflects primarily the legacy of different ethnicities working together at high densities: the most important historical explanatory variables are the share of the labor force in manufacturing in 1920 and the share of the population that was foreign born in 1920 in predicting liberal beliefs and voting for John Kerry. We interpret these results as suggesting that the liberal views that reduced traditional social divisions came about because there were gains to reducing economic and religious conflicts that could derail interactions in the marketplace.

The second important truth captured by the red state/blue state framework is that political parties and politicians have had an increasing tendency to divide on cultural and religious issues rather than on economic differences. Again, in historical perspective, cultural politics is not unusual. In the late 19th century, “Rum, Romanism and rebellion” were the core issues that determined the Republican Party. The true aberration was the mid-twentieth century era of economic politics...

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