Small Town Research

Larry Bartels compares the political behavior of people who live in small towns, make less than $60,000 a year, and don’t have college degrees (the “small town working class”) with those who live in cities or suburbs, make more than $60,000 a year, and do have college degrees:

Do small-town, working-class voters cast ballots on the basis of social issues? Yes, but less than other voters do. Among these voters, those who are anti-abortion were only 6 percentage points more likely than those who favor abortion rights to vote for President Bush in 2004. The corresponding difference for the rest of the electorate was 27 points, and for cosmopolitan voters it was a remarkable 58 points. Similarly, the votes cast by the cosmopolitan crowd in 2004 were much more likely to reflect voters’ positions on gun control and gay marriage.Small-town, working-class voters were also less likely to connect religion and politics. Support for President Bush was only 5 percentage points higher among the 39 percent of small-town voters who said they attended religious services every week or almost every week than among those who seldom or never attended religious services. The corresponding difference among cosmopolitan voters (34 percent of whom said they attended religious services regularly) was 29 percentage points.

When you get down to it, this is about what you would expect. As people get more affluent, their votes are based more an airy ethical concerns — religious views and things like environmentalism or concern for gay rights loom larger — whereas people facing larger objective economic struggles tend to focus more on the search for solutions to their economic problems.