“The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states …” Barack Obama famously observed in 2004. “But I’ve got news for them: There’s the United States of America.”
Obama went on to become president four years later, but here’s some news for him: There are significant differences between so-called “red” states that tend to vote Republican in presidential elections and “blue” ones that usually support Democrats. The colors, of course, come from maps often used in television graphics during election coverage.
What are some of the red state/blue state differences? While campaigning, Republicans tend to focus on values, claiming they’re better for families and traditional marriages, while Democrats argue that poor people, minorities and women are better off with them.
California, of course, has been blue since 1992, when Bill Clinton carried it with a plurality of the vote against the elder George Bush, later winning a majority here in 1996.
Republicans often say California Democrats have wrecked the state over the past 25 years, citing what they call a declining quality of life and an expanded role for government.
It’s true that Democrats dominated the Legislature most of that time, passing laws to regulate everything from cell phones in cars to teaching about the role of gays in history. A “nanny state,” many Republicans call it, ignoring the fact Republican governors like Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger signed off on most of the new regulations of the past quarter-century.
Ethnically speaking, California became blue when its Latinos grew more politically active. But in many other ways, this is statistically a pretty typical blue state, and there are major differences between those states and their red rivals.
Here are some (based on 2010 U.S. census data):
* Blue states tend to have a more educated populace. California is typical, with 37.4 percent of adults holding college degrees. Deeply blue Massachusetts ranks first in this category with 53.4 percent of adults holding at least a bachelor’s degree.
Minnesota, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Iowa and Maryland (all blue in 2008) come next, interrupted in the red only by North Dakota with 49.5 percent.
At the bottom is a corps of red states, including Alaska with 26.6 percent of adults holding college degrees, Texas with 32.2 percent and Arizona with 33 percent.
* Unemployment is highest in 2008 blue states Nevada (12 percent in July), Rhode Island (10.8 percent) and here in California (10.2 percent in September). States with the least unemployment were North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Oklahoma, but five of the next six lowest unemployment rates were in blue states.
* Red states tend to have a far higher percentage of persons abusing drugs, led by West Virginia with 25.8 people out of every 100,000 dying of drug overdoses, Utah with 18.4 and Alaska with 18.1 in 2008, the last year for which statistics are available. They were followed closely by extremely red Kentucky at 17.9 per 100,000.
Red states like Louisiana, Arizona, Alabama, Oklahoma and Tennessee all topped 14 per 100,000 in this sad category. California, a fairly typical blue state in drug abuse, saw 10.4 people out of every 100,000 die of drug overdoses, both from illegal drugs and prescription ones, still too many.
The leader among 2008 blue states here was Florida at 16.9. (Statistics are from the Policy Impact Report of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
* It’s much the same in census-determined poverty rates: Red states are poorer; Mississippi the poorest with 22.4 percent of its populace below the federal poverty line, followed by Alabama and Kentucky (both 19 percent), Arkansas, West Virginia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas, Georgia and Tennessee, all red and together making up the 10 states with the highest proportion of poor citizens.
California sits at 15.8 percent in poverty, about the mid-range for blue states.
* States with the highest census-reported divorce rates are also almost exclusively red, including Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alaska, Alabama, Kentucky, Nevada (the only blue state here, but also the only one with an active quickie divorce industry), Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee and Arizona. What was that about family values?
* But red-state residents tend to be more charitable, with the eight states giving the highest share of their personal income to charity — Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Idaho, Arkansas and Georgia — all reliably Republican. (Data are from the Chronicle of Philanthropy.)
So anyone who says there are no differences between red and blue states is wrong, at least statistically. It’s food for thought, anyway.
Which raises some questions: If Republicans are correct about family values being more dominant in their strongholds, does that make family values of poverty, divorce and lower college graduation rates? Does going Democratic lead to unemployment? Or are none of these things linked to election results at all?
— Reach syndicated columnist Tom Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org