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Is ideology a luxury good?

That seems to be the implication of these charts that political scientist Andrew Gelman posted. What you're seeing is self-described ideological orientation and self-described party affiliation measured against income.

pidideology.png

Gelman runs through his conclusions:

1. The alignment of income with party identification is close to zero among liberals, moderate among moderates, and huge among conservatives. If you’re conservative, then your income predicts your party identification very well.

2. First focus on Democrats. Liberal Democrats are spread among all income groups, but conservative Democrats are concentrated in the lower brackets.

3. Conservative Republicans -- the opposite of liberal Democrats, if you will -- are twice as concentrated among the rich than among the poor.

Putting factors 2 and 3 together, we find that ideological partisans (liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans) are not opposites in their income distributions. In particular, richer voters are more prevalent in these groups.

By Ezra Klein  |  April 23, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Political Science  
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Comments

I don't think it's the whole story by any means, but: do lower-income respondents think that they have any meaningful way to influence policy? It could be that they tune out from party politics when all they've got is their vote.

Posted by: Bertilak | April 23, 2010 9:23 AM | Report abuse

poor people don't have time to spend on ideology

Posted by: srw3 | April 23, 2010 9:27 AM | Report abuse

Great graph although I'd also like to see it based regionally to drill down on it more. I'm thinking that the Northeast and California tilts the liberal Democrats income level upward more than you may think.

Posted by: visionbrkr | April 23, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

I think this makes sense. People who are wealthier are more likely to have the luxury (and maybe the education and societal pressure?) to follow the news closely. And almost anyone that follows the news closely is likely to become ideological -- if you understand the issues it's almost impossible not to be ideological (This is Philip Converse's famous finding that you have to be sophisticated enough to understand "what goes with what"...and then you pick up cues accordingly). People who are having a hard time making ends meet don't have the time or interest in concerning themselves in what goes on in Washington D.C. (and who could blame them). But as a result, this is why policy is written in this country for the wealthy and not for the poor.

Posted by: vvf2 | April 23, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

I would read this another way. Education is highly correlated with income. Look at the diagonal that runs from upper left to lower right. These are the blocks where professed ideology best matches party ideology. The positively sloped lines indicate higher income (better educated) people better understand which affiliation best matches their ideology. The upper right and lower left blocks indicate where professed ideology and party affiliation are in greatest disagreement. Here we see a negative slope in income (education). You can't tell whether income or a highly correlated omitted variable like education is driving the relationship with party affiliation.

Posted by: gdcassidy1 | April 23, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

I would read this another way. Education is highly correlated with income. Look at the diagonal that runs from upper left to lower right. These are the blocks where professed ideology best matches party ideology. The positively sloped lines indicate higher income (better educated) people better understand which affiliation best matches their ideology. The upper right and lower left blocks indicate where professed ideology and party affiliation are in greatest disagreement. Here we see a negative slope in income (education). You can't tell whether income or a highly correlated omitted variable like education is driving the relationship with party affiliation.

Posted by: gdcassidy1 | April 23, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

I'm with gdcassidy1. I look at this and think, "more educated people are more likely to know what they think, and understand how their ideals translate into politics." Educated liberals, I would guess, are more likely to go into low-paying careers in the arts or as social workers than educated members of other ideologies (though that is a gross generalization), which would explain why the correlation is not as strong with liberal Democrats.

Also, people with higher paying jobs are more likely to need to keep up on current events for their job, and more likely to be politically informed as a consequence (again, huge generalization). So of course wealthier, more educated people are going to be better at matching ideology and party than people with less education and less money.

None of this is really surprising. Political science literature has been showing similar results for a long time.

Posted by: gbrunet | April 23, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

"And almost anyone that follows the news closely is likely to become ideological -- if you understand the issues it's almost impossible not to be ideological . . . ."

I respectfully disagree. Maybe I'm missing the point, but I see ideology as supplanting knowledge, not deriving from it. People who are intensely ideological are that way precisely because they don't follow the nuts and bolts of things enough to appreciate the nuanced grey areas in things. Instead they're ideological.

Posted by: simpleton1 | April 23, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

The lurking variable here is being a Republican - Higher incomes will in a self-interested manner vote in support of a system that gave them the higher income, and republicans are a very homogenous and ideological group.

Posted by: Sentan | April 23, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

This became apparent to me some years ago, when I participated in early stages of canvassing for the presidential primaries in New Hampshire back in 2004. Knocking on doors in mostly working-class urban and suburban neighborhoods, we were charged with asking people what the most important "issues" were for them in the upcoming elections. The responses were all meat-and-potatoes and very specific. And particularly non-ideological: jobs, health care rated among the top, and were accompanied by personal, specific stories about their (truly pressing) needs.

A week or so later I found myself in a meeting focused on determining the same issues for a group of citizens in my uber-liberal, highly educated, fairly affluent Massachusetts town. The answers that developed as we went around the room could not have been more starkly contrastive to those I had received from those working-class Democrats back in NH. This time the focus was wholly ideological, clustering around foreign policy, civil rights and privacy issues, things like cap and trade, etc. I recall feeling at the time what a luxury it was for all of us to be involved in such abstract interests ... and how divorced it all was from what the "real" people were thinking.

This shouldn't be surprising, but it does go a long way toward explaining the practical rifts in a large-tent party like the Democrats, which is spread widely across economic and educational demographics. I remember reading a piece by Louis Menand in the New Yorker around the same time that explored the question of how people vote. The main conclusion is that the vast preponderance of Americans have no coherent political philosophy altogether.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | April 23, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Excellent post, JJenkins2. And that Louis Menand essay was a good one.

Posted by: Bertilak | April 23, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Liberal and conservative just doesn't cut it for me any more. Most of my friends are socially liberal, economically conservative.

My interpretation of the data is that most rich people, and many poor people, are in agreement that it is is generally immoral to take property by force from a minority of people and give it to others. Some other people, spread across the spectrum of rich and poor, are missing that moral precept.

Posted by: staticvars | April 25, 2010 12:28 AM | Report abuse

@ staticvars :it is generally immoral to take property by force from a minority of people and give it to others.

but its totally OK for the minority to get the benefits of a society that is derived from taking resources from the majority, ie, the middle class and shifting it to the oligarchs.

How do you classify the minority? I assume you mean the rich >250K and the oligarchs >3000K. Typical.

Its fine to tax real estate, the only asset that most people have outside retirement but not financial assets which are overwhelmingly owned by the top 2%.

Posted by: srw3 | April 26, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

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