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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.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1257/089533006777641013

Publication date: March 1, 2006

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  • The Journal of Economic Perspectives (JEP) attempts to fill a gap between the general interest press and most other academic economics journals. The journal aims to publish articles that will serve several goals: to synthesize and integrate lessons learned from active lines of economic research; to provide economic analysis of public policy issues; to encourage cross-fertilization of ideas among the fields of thinking; to offer readers an accessible source for state-of-the-art economic thinking; to suggest directions for future research; to provide insights and readings for classroom use; and to address issues relating to the economics profession.
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