The Daily Yonder's coverage of rural economic issues, including workforce development and the future of work in rural America, is supported in part by Microsoft.
The divide between rural Republican and Democratic communities isn’t just about politics. The political division between red and blue communities is also a division between rich and poor, between those with college educations and those without.
Rural Republican communities on average have lower incomes and less education than rural Democratic communities. And those divisions are growing as people migrate.
For example, in rural counties where Barack Obama won by 20 percentage points or more, 19.2% of the adult population had a college or advanced degree. In rural counties where John McCain won by a landslide, only 13.7% of the adult population had a B.A. or graduate degree.
As the vote for Obama rose in rural America, so did the percentage of a county’s population with at least a college degree. (See chart above.)
Incomes in rural counties also varied by the vote. In landslide Obama counties, income averaged $18,342 per person.
In rural counties where John McCain won by 20 points or more, the average per capita income was $17,005.
The division by politics, income and education is a nationwide phenomenon. Just over 600 counties (out of more than 3100 nationally) voted more Republican in this year’s presidential contest than in 2004. The average per capita yearly income in those counties was nearly $18,800, according to county income tallies issued each year by the Internal Revenue Service.
Those living in the more than 500 counties that voted more Democratic this year than in 2004 had average personal incomes of $28,000, nearly 50 percent higher than the communities trending Republican.
The most Democratic counties (those where Barack Obama won by more than 20 percentage points) had average per capita incomes of $28,207. Those counties where John McCain won by similar margins had average personal incomes of just $21,308.
Places divided by income are also separated by education. In landslide Democratic counties, 32.7% of the adult population had a B.A. degree or better. In Republican counties where McCain won by 20 points or better, 20.4% of adults had finished college or graduate school.
More than thirty years ago, pollster Everett Carll Ladd Jr. wrote about the “inversion of the New Deal Order.” Ladd was one of the first to notice that white workers with less than a college degree were voting Republican in larger numbers and that educated white workers were turning Democratic. The debate over whether white, working class voters have abandoned the Democratic Party rages on. (See the most recent paper on the “shifting and diverging white working class in U.S. presidential elections” here .) In the meantime, the results from this year’s election show that there is certainly a geographic division in America based on class and status, as Democrats won in the richest and most educated communities in the country.
As people migrate, these divisions (political, educational and economic) among American communities are increasing. Again using IRS records, we tracked the average income of people who moved from county to county since the 2004 election. Those who trekked across state lines from 2003 to 2007 and settled in counties that grew more Republican this year had average incomes of $18,300.
The people who moved into counties that supported John Kerry in 2004 and then shifted more Democratic in ’08 averaged $28,100 in yearly income, over 50 percent higher than those migrating to the reddest of counties.
There were 44 counties that voted for John Kerry in 2004 but for John McCain this November. Most of these counties are rural. The average per capita income of the people who moved into these counties between the two elections was only $16,500 a year — 34% less than those who migrated at the same time into the 331 counties that flipped from George Bush in ’04 to Barack Obama in ’08.
People with fewer money-making skills are moving into counties that are voting increasingly Republican. Those with higher incomes (and more education) are moving into counties that are voting more Democrat. The more lopsided the local political victory, the greater the differences in income and education.
We don’t pretend to understand the full meaning of how this country is dividing. We can see, however, that America is polarizing not only politically, but also educationally and economically — and that a country Balkanized by skills and by income has more troubles than one that is simply divided by votes in a presidential election.