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David Brooks discovers Red State Blue State Rich State Poor State!

The New York Times columnist writes:

Our political conflict is primarily a rich, white civil war. It’s between privileged progressives and privileged conservatives. You could say that tribalism is the fruit of privilege. People with more stresses in their lives necessarily pay less attention to politics. . . .

I’ve had some differences with Brooks in the past, but when he agrees with me, I’m not gonna complain.

As David Park, Boris Shor, Joe Bafumi, Jeronimo Cortina, and I wrote ten years ago:

The cultural divide of the two Americas looms larger at high incomes . . . A theme throughout this book is that the cultural differences between states—the things that make red and blue America feel like different places—boil down to differences among richer people in these states.


Consistent with Ronald Inglehart’s hypothesis of postmaterialism, survey data show social issues to be more important to higher-income voters. This can be viewed as a matter of psychology and economics, with social policy as a luxury that can be afforded once you have achieved some material comfort. Our results stand in contradiction to the commonly held idea that social issues distract lower-income voters from their natural economic concerns.

It took a few years, but it seems that our ideas have finally become conventional wisdom.


  1. Kyle C says:

    Andrew: As I think you have suggested at this blog, I suspect your book would have made a bigger impact with the clickbait title, “The Secret Life of the American Voter.” Your title was substantively excellent.

  2. Jonathan says:

    It’s also the roots of populism: the candidate appealing past the party elites and their nearer edges of the distribution. The more the ‘media’ treats a candidate with ‘elitist’ derision, the more the populist appeal – which the elites then willfully misconstrue as they wish (if only because we always willfully misconstrue the other side).

  3. Not Trampis says:

    You were ahead of your time.
    Of course it could also mean Brooks is well behind of his time!!

  4. Grayson Reim says:

    Hey Prof,

    Since this post in 2018, Do you still think the culture war stuff, as you’ve stated above, still shows up in the data? I’ve seen a lot of analysis by David Shor and others – hopefully I’m not misinterpreting it – suggesting a different dynamic than first outlined in Rich State Poor State Red State Blue State: that is, while rich states vote blue, poor people vote blue. Are there addendums you might add to a new edition?


    Grayson Reim

    P.S. First comment (whoop, whoop!).

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