That map of states by human development index score reminded me of something. Remember this New York Times map of voting shifts from 2004 to 2008?
The bluer counties shifted more towards the Democrats in the presidential elections from 2004 to 2008, and red counties shifted more towards the Republicans. The country as a whole shifted about 9.7% more Democratic; but one region stands out for having a lot of counties that actually went more Republican in 2008 - and it sure looks like it correlates pretty strongly with what I described yesterday as the underdeveloped core: the eight states with human development index scores well outside the mainstream for other developed economies. Those states all went for John McCain in 2008, just like they all went for Bush in 2004 and 2000 (though Bill Clinton did pretty well in the region in his two elections). They're not the most Republican states (though Oklahoma's close to the top of that list), but they all seem to be moving towards the Republicans, even as most of the rest of the country moves toward the Democrats.
If anything, this correlation is even more striking when you make the apples-to-apples comparison of state HDI vs. state voting shift from 2004 to 2008.
This shows the voting shift towards the Democrats from 2004 to 2008. The scale is set so that red states shifted less toward the Democrats than the nation as a whole (even though most of them shifted somewhat toward the Democrats) and blue states shifted more toward the Democrats than the nation as a whole. Again, the vote shift in the underdeveloped core was less toward the Democrats than in any other region; five of the 8 states actually shifted toward the Republicans - the only states to do so. Based on Dave Leip's US Election Atlas, here are the states that moved the least toward the Democrats, with their percentage change in the Democratic margin:
1. Arkansas, -10.09
2. Louisiana, -4.12
3. Tennessee, -0.79
4. West Virginia, -0.25
5. Oklahoma, -0.15
6. Massachusetts, +0.65
7. Arizona, +1.99
8. Kentucky, +3.64
9. Alaska, +4.01
10. Alabama, +4.04
11. Mississippi, +6.52
Massachusetts was the home state of the Democrat in 2004, and Arizona and Alaska were the home states of the Republican presidential and vice-presidential candidates in 2008. If you take out those three states, the top 8 states that shifted the least toward the Democrats were precisely those eight states that constitute the underdeveloped core. Does that seem like an odd correlation to you? The states that seem to be moving towards the Republicans are exactly those that have the lowest human development index scores.
One possible explanation for this would hold if Republicans were generally increasing their vote share among poorer people: if that were so, it would be most evident in the poorest states. But according to this compilation of exit poll data, that's not the case; lower income voters moved about as much toward the Democrats as the country as a whole.
Other people have explained the relatively strong Republican showing in this region as a phenomenon of Appalachia or the Upland South. But that doesn't account for the pattern of voting shifts in the Deep South. Some moron also argued that the areas of Republican improvement in 2008 should best be conceptualized as those parts of the South where there are few blacks. But that wouldn't account for the fact that Republicans did well relative to 2004 in some states with lots of blacks, like Louisiana and Mississippi, and not as well in some other states with large black populations, like Georgia and North Carolina. The pattern of areas of relative Republican improvement and the states with very low HDI scores makes for a much tidier correlation.
This is a bit hard to figure out. I mean, it's not like the Republicans are avowedly interested in addressing poverty or issues of human development in any direct way. And it's not as if they're popular among lower income people. Yet here they are making inroads in the one region of the country where levels of human development diverge widely from the norms of the developed world. The only explanation I can think of is that, in areas with lower levels of human development, traditionalist values have a firmer hold, and Republican appeals to those values have been paying off in the underdeveloped South. But it still seems odd that such values would swamp material concerns for voters in the one region of the country where the material standard of living really isn't up to snuff.