Unemployment:Liberalism as Chicken:Egg?

The other day I heard on the local news that Rhode Island had the highest unemployment rate of the 50 states in the most recent report (Oct. 08).  I also remembered seeing that Little Rhody was one of the states in which Obama faired the best.   I was curious, so I looked up the stats on unemployment across the country and saw that many of the highest unemployment rates were in “blue” states and some most of the lowest rates were in “red” states.  Of course there are some red states that are relatively worse and some blue states that are relatively better off, so I wanted to see how it really played out.

The easiest numbers to get were presidential election results by state.  I assume that these states don’t just vote for liberal politicians in Presidential elections, they also vote for Democrats in most races.  I pulled some numbers together into Excel, plotted them, and added a trendline.  Below is the result for the 2008 election:


October 2008 Unemployment vs. Presidential Voting

October 2008 Unemployment vs. 2008 Presidential Voting


I am not a statistician, and I recognize that the correlation isn’t the strongest (R^2 was around .1), but it sure looks like more than a coincidence.  For the math-challenged, that equation basically says that unemployment goes up by nearly half a percent for every 10 percent of people that voted for Obama.

Does this shows me that the more liberal voters you have the higher your unemployment will be, or does it show the opposite?   The higher the unemployment rate is, the more likely people will be to vote liberal.  I realize that the 2008 presidential voting occurred after the time frame for which these unemployment numbers are valid.  Some might argue that the high unemployment was the cause of the number of votes for Obama,  so I pulled in the 2004 presidential election results and did the same “analysis.”


October 2008 Unemployment vs. 2004 Presidential

October 2008 Unemployment vs. 2004 Presidential


Here the relationship is even stronger, and the correlation tighter.  The states that voted for the Democrat 4 years ago are the states with the highest current unemployment.

I realize that I’m comparing 2004 election results with unemployment stats from 4 years later, but this shows me that the states that voted Democratic 4 years ago have high unemployment now.  If I was really interested and had the resources I would like to dig deeper into this, but for now I am going to take this as at least a small affirmation of my suspicions…

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6 Responses to Unemployment:Liberalism as Chicken:Egg?

  1. jdrees says:

    I have another theory: people who are unemployed are more likely to vote against those in power.

  2. altglbrs says:

    Rhode Island keeps voting in Democrats, even though the state is an absolute mess. Rampant corruption, massive inefficiencies (50 school districts for a state the size of Champaign county), atrocious roads, nations highest unemployment, one of the highest state income taxes, one of the largest per capita budget deficits…

    Maybe it hasn’t gotten bad enough for enough people to shake things up, or maybe that’s all they’ve ever known…

  3. Raj says:

    OK, I’ll take the bait. I too am highly skeptical of causation arguments here — as you acknowledge, lots of unrelated factors go into both voting trends and employment… (We could talk about this for hours, but there are some folks who vote purely on social issues, for one thing…)

    But I’m not sure that I get the basic hypothesis here? From your comment, it sounds like the idea is that states like Rhode Island vote for Democrats, who then create and/or perpetuate unemployment (via corruption, inefficiency, taxes, etc.)?

    If that’s the hypothesis, I would respond:

    (1) I don’t know that presidential-level voting data tells us much of anything — especially the 2004 data. Rhode Island voted for Kerry in 2004 and has high unemployment today. But what does John Kerry have to do with that? He lost — as president, at least, he had nothing to do with setting policy in Rhode Island that may (or may not) lead to high unemployment. As to the 2008 data, I’ll cut Obama a little slack, too, given that he’s still over a month away from taking office… 🙂

    (2) But in your hypothesis, wouldn’t Rhode Island’s Republican governor for the last 5+ years — Donald Carcierei — be at least as accountable for the state’s high unemployment rate? That is, if we’re trying to assign responsibility for high unemployment, wouldn’t a state’s governor be more responsible than its (losing) presidential candidate?

    As to other states — Here’s a WAY overly simplistic chart calculating average employment rate by governor’s party:


    (3) But let me be clear again that I don’t think my chart tells us much of anything either. Governors — like presidents — don’t set policy all on their own. They have to deal with legislators. And as much as I believe in the responsibility of government to get involved here — and believe me, I do — the government cannot realistically offset everything going on in the market…

    Put another way, I wish I could blame George W. Bush solely for our national economic meltdown, but I acknowledge that he’s only one player in this drama. 🙂

  4. Raj says:

    Sorry, one more thing that I meant to mention in #3 — I also acknowledge that party labels don’t tell us everything about a governor’s economic policies. I suspect that Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) — and for that matter, Haley Barbour (R-MS) — have governed to the left of Brad Henry (D-OK) and Mike Beebe (D-AR).

  5. altglbrs says:

    Thanks for responding. These are all good and valid points.

    Regarding #1: This was a quick and dirty way to picking “blue” states and assigning a value to their “blueness” without having to dig up State House and Senate party affiliations for 50 states. I’m working on the stereotype that people generally vote along party lines. Most of the states that voted for Obama and Kerry are represented by Democrats in Congress, and I assume their state legislatures are similarly Democratic.

    Regarding #2: I’m not blaming the presidential candidate, just using them as a proxy to roughly gauge voter leanings. I was aware of Carcieri party, but I was also aware that Democrats out number Republicans 60:13 in the State House and 33:5 in the State Senate. There are also Democratic governors of “red” states, like Napolitano from Arizona (which has some serious budget issues).

    Regarding #3: I’m with you here… It takes two to tango and eight to square dance and 12,169 to break the line dancing record. There is plenty of blame to go around and I agree that party affiliation doesn’t come close to telling the whole story.

    I guess my hypothesis would be: States with liberal policies and politicians tend to have higher unemployment and budget deficits.

    I was trying to be a little provocative while seriously looking at this. I have my preconceived notions, and I’m not informed enough to give this a rigorous treatment.

  6. Wadson says:

    “I still haven’t decided whetehr I’m going to buy a Liberal Party of Canada membership to vote in this race […]”Sadly I won’t, not because I’m disinterested but because Liberal members don’t vote for their leader; one buys a membership, and in turn selects a delegate who will actually be the one doing the voting for the new Liberal leader, in May… well, if there’s not a back-room deal made, first. Sounds quaint, in a late 19th-century sort of way.But for a party arguably in need of new ideas and an infusion of fresh faces, this seems really passe9 and a touch undemocratic.And, no, I’m who’s thinking that.

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