Mitt Romney, presidential candidate, said in now-infamous comments that 47% of the American electorate is dependent on the federal government, that he will never be able to teach them to take personal responsibility for their lives, and that they are certain to vote for Barack Obama in November. He continues a tradition in his party that goes back at least three decades: building political campaigns around the proposition that folks in the heartland exhibit the American virtues of self sufficiency and personal responsibility and the implication that other, more urban, regions display decadent social values and dependency on government.
The red states receive more federal spending, relative to taxes, than the blue states, as I wrote in a 2010 blog post. Updated data show that the pattern continues. Those who claim to be fiscally conservative are the ones who in truth tend to feed the most voraciously at the federal trough. Alaskans are the most dependent on the federal government, receiving $7,448 in spending (net of taxes) per capita. New England, the Mid-Atlantic States, Minnesota and Illinois are the biggest net givers. Regarding Romney’s specific ”47%” allegation: the states with high percentages of people who pay no income tax tend to vote Republican, not Democratic.
States where residents suffer more from obesity, in part because they have worse eating habits, tend to vote Republican, as I showed in a blog post last June. To illustrate, a mere 1 percentage point decrease in a state’s obesity rate is associated on average with an estimated increase in the ratio of Democratic to Republican voters from 1.00 to 1.07. The relationship is highly significant statistically.
States where residents get less physical exercise tend to vote Republican. (Figure 10d in appendix.) The relationship is highly significant statistically.
Sex is interesting. Red states residents buy more online adult entertainment, according to a 2009 study in the Journal of Economic Perspectives by Benjamin Edelman. Notwithstanding proclamations about the importance of pre-marital chastity, evidence suggests that young people in red states do have sex before marriage. It is less likely to be safe sex than among those in blue states. States that vote Republican have higher birth rates among 15-17-year-old girls, as Figure 4 shows. Again, the difference is highly significant statistically. They also have higher rates of the sexually-transmitted disease Chlamydia . (This difference, unlike the others, is not statistically significant at the aggregate state level; but it is when combined into an overall measure of unsafe sex.)
Nobody is surprised to hear that red states have higher rates of gun ownership than blue states. But there is an important distinction between those who use guns responsibly and those who do not. The data show that ¾ of the states with high rates of firearms assaults vote Republican. The regression is statistically significant.
People who drink too much endanger themselves and endanger others as well. You guessed it: States with high rates of fatal accidents from drunk driving tend to vote Republican.
Finally, states with high rates of smoking vote Republican too, as Figure 7 illustrates. Again, the relationship is highly significant statistically.
Utah is the most conspicuous outlier in most of these relationships. It has a high population of Mormons. Apparently they follow the strictures of their religion more closely than those of other religious denominations. (Could this be why evangelicals tend to resent Mormons so much, according to opinion polls?) But Utah notwithstanding, the relationships hold on average.
The five most “red” states are Wyoming, Oklahoma, Utah, Idaho, and Alaska. The five most “blue” are New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and Hawaii. The average score of the five reddest states is worse in each category than the average score of the five bluest states: more obesity, smoking, Chlamydia, teenage pregnancy, drunk driving fatalities, and firearms assaults. In the latter three of those measures, the “reckless” shares of the population are almost twice as high among the first five states as among the last five. While we are at it, we might as well acknowledge that the red state populations also tend to be less educated and more prone to divorce.
There you have it, the surprising statistics. ”Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”