Red vs. Blue: Myth vs. Reality

This diary on DailyKos got me thinking, and then it sent me Googling. It posits a number of theses, but the general thrust of the arguments is that things are better overall in blue states. It also suggests that the family values so espoused in red states are not as widely practiced in blue states.

Before the 2000 election, no one spoke of red states vs. blue states. For whatever reason during that election the networks showed states that voted for Bush as red on their maps, and states that voted for Gore as blue. Because of the 2004 election, a couple states flipped colors but the map looked largely the same. Blue states covered the northeast, Great Lakes and the West Coast. Red states largely covered the rest of the country. Red state vs. blue state stuck as a national metaphor. Both sides claimed that the values were significantly different between blue and red states. Aside from red states being more likely to be controlled by Republicans, such states emphasize low taxes, religion, individual responsibility and entrepreneurial behavior. Blue states are more likely to be Democratic, tolerant of diversity, secular and progressive in nature.

I decided to spend a couple hours doing some research. I did not have time to do an exhaustive analysis of all the claims made in the diary, but I did find the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which has a variety of social statistics and a convenient engine for generating these statistics by state. I picked statistics that gave me percentages. With states varying in population it made no sense to compare the number of abortions in, say, Nevada with California. By using percentages though, I was able to smooth out the differences between states. Consequently, the statistics I present show all states equally. I believe that a state-by-state comparison, grouped by red and blue states, can be useful for inferring the real values and characteristics of red and blue states.

The engine gave me a nice HTML report, but HTML was not convenient for analysis. I managed to copy the data into a spreadsheet. My analysis was done using MS Excel.

You should know that I am not a statistician. I took a basic course in college where I learned about things like average, mean, medium and standard deviation. I am also aware that one should not read too much into any set of statistics. For example, in the south there are disproportionately more Hispanics and African Americans. Historically they have not done as well in certain fields, like academics, as non-Hispanic whites. I also realize that certain states like Ohio, which were counted as red, split right down the middle in the last election and are more accurately “purple” states. Therefore, it is probably a mistake to read too much into my analysis. Still some of my results were interesting.

Here is a HTML version of my analysis. You are welcome to download the spreadsheet and check my logic. Based on the data and the approach I chose, here are some of the results.

Abortion: In blue states, 22.3% of women aborted their pregnancies. In red states, it was 14.32%. Analysis: Since abortion services are more readily available in blue states I was not surprised to find that more pregnancies were aborted in blue states. So if making abortion difficult is supporting the right to life then red states truly are more “pro life”, or at least more pro the new life.

Out of wedlock births: Women in red states are 1% more likely to have out of wedlock births. Red states have a 4.4% higher pregnancy rate for women age 15-19 than blue states. Analysis: some would infer that teenage women are somewhat “sluttier” in red states. Other reasons that could explain the difference include that teens in red states are less inclined to use birth control, or have a harder time getting a hold of it.

Marriage: If you are a man 20-49 then you are 4.1% more likely to be single in a blue state. Analysis: This is not very surprising; although I doubt gays, flocking to blue states explains the gap. I am surprised that nationally 46% of these men are single.

Education: Men 25-49 in red states are 1.5% more likely not to have earned a high school diploma than in blue states. Analysis: I do not think this margin is statistically significant.

Child Support: Blue states do a better job of collecting child support. (25.2% in blue states vs. 21.1% in red states.) Analysis: Blue states seem to give the problem more focus. What is shocking here is that nationally only about 20% of child support is collected. This is scandalous. I am amazed single mothers are not staging massive protests in Washington. No civilized society should tolerate this.

Poverty: 5.6% more men ages 20-49 live at less than 200% of the national poverty level in red states. For women, the gap is 6.4%. 2.7% more of the women in red states live in poverty in red states than blue states. Analysis: This is probably largely due to socioeconomic factors, but all things being equal it does suggest living in a blue state means you are less likely to be impoverished, perhaps because there is more of a social safety net.

Insurance: Men 15-49 living in red states are 3.5% more likely to be uninsured than in blue states. Women 15-44 in red states are 5% more likely to be uninsured in red states.1.8% more women age 15-44 are covered by Medicaid or SCHIP in blue states than in red. Analysis: This may be cultural. Red states are more likely to embrace a “self reliant” culture.

Sexually transmitted disease: About 3 more men per 100,000 (ages 10 and older) acquire Chlamydia in red states. About 7 more men acquire Gonorrhea. As for syphilis, the difference is about 1.4 men. Analysis: probably statistically irrelevant. There may be a slight cultural bias in red states not to use protection during sex, or more ignorance of the effects of unprotected sex.

If my statistics are meaningful, which they may well not be, then perhaps the following tentative conclusions can be drawn:

  • While “family values” are embraced more in red states, younger people are more inclined to get pregnant out of wedlock in these states. This suggests more “talking the talk” than “walking the walk”.
  • You are less likely to be impoverished and more likely to be insured in blue states.

If I have more time and the inclination, I will look at other sets of statistics.

3 responses to “Red vs. Blue: Myth vs. Reality”

  1. Re child support: One of the reasons why child support may be collected so rarely (aside from poverty and non-use of/ignorance about contraception) is that very often the pregnant mother does not/may not know:

    Where the father is (especially if it was a one-night stand or the father ran off when the pregnancy started)
    May not know about the services available, including the Department of Child Support Enforcement (part of Social Services in VA, names may vary in other states)
    May not know other identifying information about the father (for example, Social Security No. or other ID info).

    In addition, one of the usual child support cases that come through our office (defense attorney office) is that of the father who is notified only about one or two years of the child’s life that he is actually the father and has to pay all of the back child support. The minimum is around $65/month, so over a 2-year period that works out to over $1k–and most people working for minimum wage barely make ends meet. $1k for them would be the equivalent of hitting the jackpot. Worse is the case of the father in jail/prison–when he comes out he has a small period of time (at the judge’s discretion) to start paying bach child support, in addition to court costs, fines or other items. And oh yes–try finding a job anywhere with a criminal record. Not to mention housing. And transportation. And insurance (for the child, not yourself, of couse). And the fact that at $65/month, you owe $780/year in arrearages… and you get the idea.

    It’s no better if you have the situation where you have a mongamous couple and the father goes to jail. When the mother applies for child support, the state assesses the child support against the father (who, being incarcerated, has no hope of making any money–only a small number of inmates are allowed into the work-release program). When the father comes out of jail, the child and mother may have been taken care of; he’s in some serious debt, and in most likelihood, heading back into jail or prison. (Yup, add one more item to the criminal record–failure to comply with order to pay child support.)

    If I sound like I am defending the non-paying parents, it’s because the system does not give much of a chance. I would like to see more child support collected and distributed fairly, without increasing the prison population; I’d also like more birth-prevention programs and education around. The programs that are useful do not serve enough teenagers or adults. Making birth-prevention classes required for all 7th or 8th grade students would go a long way towards alleviating the problem. Having kids work jobs (paid or volunteer) during the summer, or having them in various low-cost or no-cost programs or in sports would go a long way as well in keeping kids busy and tired so they don’t get to have any energy or time left for sex experimentation (or petty crimes, like shoplifiting–that seems to spike in the summer). Heck, having a few neighborhood pools would do the trick–would get non-working kids (roughly, anyone under 16) something to do, would get a few jobs (for the life guards) and would allow them to swim off the energy. Too bad we won’t see it in Portsmouth, though, the only pool open to the public is open on Saturdays, for two hours.

    Rambling reply to a four-line statement; let the flames (from the “red” right-wingers) commence…


  2. That was an extremely interesting analysis, thank you. I’m jealous I didn’t think of it, because those numbers would have been so fun to crunch! I took a Population Geography class a few years ago that this would have been a perfect project for. I studied deforestation rates vs. population density instead. Oh well.

    Anyways, though your results weren’t as startling as I hoped, I think the process that brought you there was excellently executed. I liked your unbiased “just the numbers ma’am” approach.


  3. After the 2004 elections someone put up the website that makes available within the body of its declarations some very interesting statistics comparing blue vs red states.
    For instance, 9 out of the 10 states with the highest divorce rates are red, while the states with the lowest rates are mostly blue. Go visit, please, it’s very enlightening.
    As for the blue states having higher abortion rates, please remember that states aren’t separated by electrified fences, –at least not yet!
    I would speculate that red staters who can afford it go to the nearest blue state for an abortion provider, since such providers are in short supply in a lot of red states.


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