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Purple America

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  • Stephen Ansolabehere
  • Jonathan Rodden
  • James M. Snyder Jr.

Abstract

America, we are told, is a nation divided. The cartographers who draw up the maps of U.S. election results have branded a new division in American politics: Republican red versus Democratic blue. What is the source of this division? Most observers point not to the bread-and-butter economic issues of the New Deal alignment but to a "culture war." In this paper, we draw on data from three decades of survey research to see how the electorate divides along economic and moral issues. While showing that moral values are not irrelevant, the survey data roundly reject the basic claims of the culture war thesis: that voters are polarized over moral issues, and this division maps onto important demographic categories like religious affiliation; that moral issues have more salience or weight in the minds of voters than economic issues; and that this division accounts for red and blue cartography (because red-state voters are moral conservatives who vote on moral issues without regard for their economic interests or preferences.) We put issue cleavages and electoral maps into historical perspective and demonstrate that over the course of the twentieth century there has been a noteworthy political convergence between the states. Compared to the past, the political geography of the United States today is purple.

Suggested Citation

  • Stephen Ansolabehere & Jonathan Rodden & James M. Snyder Jr., 2006. "Purple America," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(2), pages 97-118, Spring.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:20:y:2006:i:2:p:97-118
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.20.2.97
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    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.20.2.97
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    Cited by:

    1. Edward L. Glaeser & Bryce A. Ward, 2006. "Myths and Realities of American Political Geography," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(2), pages 119-144, Spring.
    2. Stefan Krasa & Mattias Polborn, 2012. "Elites or Masses? A Structural Model of Policy Divergence, Voter Sorting and Apparent Polarization in U.S. Presidential Elections, 1972-2008," CESifo Working Paper Series 3752, CESifo.
    3. Scott R. Baker & Nicholas Bloom & Brandice Canes-Wrone & Steven J. Davis & Jonathan Rodden, 2014. "Why Has US Policy Uncertainty Risen since 1960?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(5), pages 56-60, May.
    4. Makowsky, Michael D., 2011. "Religion, clubs, and emergent social divides," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 80(1), pages 74-87.
    5. Janhuba, Radek, 2019. "Do victories and losses matter? Effects of football on life satisfaction," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 75(PB).
    6. Abdul Munasib & Devesh Roy, 2008. "Socializing Interactions and Social Attitude Formation," Economics Working Paper Series 0802, Oklahoma State University, Department of Economics and Legal Studies in Business.
    7. Stefan Krasa & Mattias Polborn, 2014. "Policy Divergence and Voter Polarization in a Structural Model of Elections," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 57(1), pages 31-76.
    8. Levernier, William & Barilla, Anthony G., 2006. "The Effect of Region, Demographics, and Economic Characteristics on County-Level Voting Patterns in the 2000 Presidential Election," The Review of Regional Studies, Southern Regional Science Association, vol. 36(3), pages 427-447.
    9. Stephen Ansolabehere & M. Socorro Puy, 2015. "Issue-salience, Issue-divisiveness and Voting Decisions," Working Papers 2015-01, Universidad de Málaga, Department of Economic Theory, Málaga Economic Theory Research Center.

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