4.0 out of 5 stars
Fun and easy to read
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on December 6, 2008
Gelman, et. al., offer the political science version of pop-social science, in the Gladwell-Freakonomics vein. They do a fine job, though not quite reaching the captivating levels of Gladwell, etc.
Since the 2000 election and the near dead even split in the electorate, the "red-blue" divide has captivated politicos. The blue states voted for Gore and Kerry, and the red states put George W. Bush in the White House. What has amazed a few people is the fact that the poor states are the red states, which seemed to fly in the face of the storyline that the poor normally vote Democratic. Why do red-poor states - those states that actually take more money from the federal government than their inhabitants pay towards the federal government - vote Republican? Some, like Thomas Frank in "What's the Matter with Kansas?," suggested that poor folks were suckered into voting Republican because Party leaders hyped social issues (abortion, gay marriage) to get the poor on board, all the while ensuring tax cuts were passed for the benefit of the wealthy. It is intriguing to note that after the better part of 30 years of time in the White House, Republicans really haven't done a great job of passing conservative social legislation, but have done a fine job with tax cuts that have largely benefited the wealthy (the wealthy do, of course, pay most of the taxes). Well, Gelman and the rest rebut Frank by pointing out that the poor do indeed - in all states - vote more for the Democratic Party than do the wealthy. Again, that is the case even in red states. Granted, there is probably a higher proportion of poor folks in red states voting Republican than they do in blue states, but even in red states the poor are more likely to vote Democratic. It's the WEALTHY who are causing the red-blue divide. That is, the wealthy are more likely to defect from their financial interests, and they do so, obviously, in the blue states. Furthermore, it is the wealthy who are arguing over social policy, and the poor are sticking to their economic interests. Most importantly for the Democratic Party, Gelman and friends point out that, contrary to the arguments of the left, Democrats would not improve electoral outcomes by becoming more liberal. Doing so will only cause more moderates to leave the Democratic Party. Still, as any Democrat has should have learned, the winning strategy is not always the chosen strategy.
Regardless, "Red State, Blue State..." is an easy to read book with plenty of citations for any reader who wants to dig deeper into the theory, methodology, and articles of serious public opinion and voting behavior scholarship.
My biggest complaints about the book aren't too big. First, the early chapters were particularly choppy and almost read as cut-and-paste efforts. Thankfully the nuggets were interesting, but the overall themes were elusive. Second, for a short book, the price is a bit steep. Don't get me wrong: I love an easy to read short book, but don't charge me a big book price for it. Otherwise, a fine job on an important issue, which may be a little less relevant now with President-electObama's impressive 2008 victory. A few missteps by him, however, and we're right back to the 49-49 split with the increased likelihood of red state led Republican victories.
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