Monday, December 10, 2012

United States of Moochers: Red vs Blue states

It's been a long campaign season, so I'm sure the first thing everyone wants to see is some extensive, in-depth political research! Some of you might remember an interesting figure that went around the internet a few years back. It sorts all US states into two columns, net contributors to the federal government vs. net takers; and two colors, red for republican and blue for democrat states. The conclusion is stark: republican states take more than they give to the federal budget, and democratic states give more than they take. But I thought the binary decision for each state (red or blue, giver or taker) was a bit simplistic, and it seems like it used just one snapshot of America (2004), so I did my own research. I gathered as much data as I could on the subject (sources were Wikipedia and the First, the normalized vote margins in the last 5 presidential elections (separated into colors at margin values of +/- 4% and +/-15%). Then the amount of money the federal government spends on each state, divided by the amount that state contributes, for the years 1981-2005, to get our "Mooching Factor".
Let red states secede if they want - that would solve our budget deficit instantly!
These results are also shown on this US map, where "Giver" states are given their normal red, blue, or purple, while the "Moocher" states are assigned the less-dignified colors of pink, cyan, and yellow.
You can clearly see that only 3/25 red states are givers (12%), while 11/16 blue states are givers (69%).  In fact, seven red states are bigger moochers than the worst blue state. But they say correlation (in this case 0.2, which is pretty weak) does not indicate causation. My first thought is that relative poverty rates in each state will be a determining factor. A state with richer people contributes more in taxes but takes less for social programs, right?
This explains part of the overall trend: red states tend to have higher poverty rates than blue states, so naturally they would be taking more money for social benefits while contributing less from taxes. But we see that all 10/10 (a shameful 100%) of "rich" red states still take more than they give, while only 4/13 (17%) of "rich" blue states do. Depressingly, poverty is less an indicator of whether a state is a giver or taker (0.12 correlation) than political lean (0.20). In the background you can see an aggregated "Redland" and "Blueland" (I didn't worry about "Purpleland"). We see that red states are significantly more impoverished, even though they have been receiving a "stimulus package" from blue states for at least 30 years running. But also interesting are the trends within Redland, where poorer red states don't necessarily take more than richer red states (the same is true for Blueland). It really looks like red states, not poor states, are inherently takers.

Another hypothesis is that each representative for a state is like a pig at the Federal Trough, grabbing as much money for their constituents as every other pig. That means that less-populous states, which have the same number of senators as big states, will have more congressional influence per capita, and therefore more federal money. I define "congressional influence" as the fraction of the House of Representatives that a state controls plus the fraction of the Senate that each state controls (this assumes both chambers of Congress are equal in budgetary power). In the plot below you can compare a state's congressional influence to its population by comparing the areas of the outer and inner circle; we see that for example, citizens of Wyoming have more than 10 times the congressional influence per capita as citizens of California.
It's evident that congressional influence is a large factor. Notably, each of the five most underrepresented states, regardless of political lean, all give more than they contribute. Over-represented red states are more likely to take more (all 18/18), while over-represented blue states are split evenly between givers and takers (5/10). This plot is perhaps the most damning of all for Republicans: it suggests that the only reason that any red states contribute more than they take is just because they don't have the congressional influence to grab more money from the Federal Trough, while blue states exercise fiscal restraint, even when they have the congressional influence to grab more money. Again, the implications are clear: Republican politicians greedily rake in as much money as they can for their states, while Democratic politicians govern toward some other goal, perhaps "the best interest of the country"? In the background of the figure we again see "Redland" and "Blueland", where Blueland has more people but less congressional influence, and therefore pays tribute every year to Redland. In fact, each citizen of Redland has 26.4% more congressional influence than a citizen of Blueland, which corresponds quite closely to their 26.4% higher Mooch Factor.

Red States Blue States
total moochers 88% (22/25) 31% (5/16)
fraction of poor states that are moochers86% (12/14)0% (0/2)
fraction of rich states that are moochers100% (10/10)31% (4/13)
fraction of under-represented states that are moochers 57% (4/7) 0% (0/6)
fraction of over-represented states that are moochers 100% (18/18) 50% (5/10)
Federal money spent/contributed ("Mooch Factor") 1.16 0.91
poverty rate 14.3% 11.7%
US population fraction 39% 41%
fraction of congress ("congressional influence") 44% 37%

Aren't Republicans supposed to be fiscally-responsible small-government advocates? If blue states are taking less but still have lower poverty for 30 years now, perhaps their governing model is more successful: social services to people in need, rather than trickle-down Reaganomics for the wealthy.


  1. IT would be interesting to compare the lower levels of taxation: property taxes, income taxes, sales taxes visvis red, blue.

  2. Very useful (if depressing) analysis. Thanks.

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