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Purple America

Stephen Ansolabehere, Jonathan Rodden and James Snyder

Journal of Economic Perspectives, 2006, vol. 20, issue 2, 97-118

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.

Date: 2006
Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.20.2.97
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