Income Inequality and Party Representation

income_inequalityby James A. Bacon

As a follow-up to my previous post, yes, honest liberals do exist. One of them is Michael Zuckerman writing in Atlantic Cities, who squarely confronts the reality that Democratic congressional districts experience far more income inequality overall than Republican congressional districts. He compiled the chart above which shows the Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives. Concludes Zuckerman: “As the data show, Democrats have a lock not only on the country’s richest districts but also on the districts with the highest in-district income inequality.”

He then advances an interesting hypothesis: “Considered alongside these well-established trends, the fact that Democrats represent districts that are (on average) more unequal than Republican districts suggests that the parties may have such divergent views on income inequality in part because their members (and constituents) have divergent experiences of income inequality.”

In a way, that’s a breakthrough concept because it attributes Republicans’ policy views not toward callous, unfeeling attitudes towards the poor or to racism — the main rhetorical thrust of the national Democratic Party rhetoric and its media allies these days — but to their different life experiences. Democrats are more sensitive to income inequality because they experience it more glaringly in their daily lives; Republicans are less sensitive because they see less of it.

There is, of course, one other possible explanation: Income inequality is worse in Democratic districts because Democratic districts tend to be governed at the state and local level by… Democrats. And, just as I argued in the previous post that Democratic policies lead to increased segregation as an unintended consequence, they also lead to more income inequality as an unintended consequence. Food for thought.

There is good news for Democrats — Virginia Democrats, at least — in Zuckerman’s data. The national trend aligning Democrats with inequality does not hold true in Virginia — the average Gini for three Dem districts, .429, is a hair lower than that for the eight GOP districts, .434. Indeed, the fifth most income-egalitarian district in the country is Virginia’s 11th, represented by Democrat Rep. Gerald Connolly!


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5 responses to “Income Inequality and Party Representation”

  1. larryg Avatar

    this is edging into the territory where someone in NY says if I stick my left thumb in my ear and my right thumb in my mouth and squint my left eye while I try to cross my right eye – can I see the second coming?

    I suggest an email to Luke to see if he can provide you with a geographical representation of your recent thesis… and see what “develops”.

    but just between you and I.. some people who do well financially know there is a certain degree of “there by the grace of God – go I, hard work alone sometimes is not enough” verses those who do well and say ” I did this all by myself.. and the lazy ass poor deserve their fate”.

    In other words, it’s how you hold your mouth.. and Conservatives are often ungrateful, selfish jerks about it.


    how do you like them apples?

  2. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

    The key problem here is that anyone with ears can actually hear the callousness and racism of Republicans when they open their mouths. Be it advancing roll backs in child labor laws, calling women who advocate for better access to contraceptives as “sluts” or calling the first black president everything other than a child of God.

    Here’s another hypothesis: maybe both groups – the wealthy that tend to be better educated and the poor that tend to need more services – find appeal in the Democratic message and therefore vote for Democrats because they aren’t anti-science, anti-choice retrogrades calling for the end of the Voting Rights Act and scrambling to kill the New Deal policies that make life bearable for the poor. And maybe the wealthy people who have actually had to interact with the poor and the minority find that they’re not “looters” or “takers” or “moochers” and therefore don’t heed the siren song of those words. And maybe the poor Republicans are largely white and largely undereducated and are hearing that siren song and voting against a president who was born in Kenya.

    And maybe income inequality is the result of rollbacks of federal policies that have no analog on the state level.

    1. Rollbacks of federal policies? What “rollbacks” might those be?

      1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

        Killing AFDC comes readily to mind. So does shuttering the Office of Economic Opportunity. The deregulation of the banking industry and the failure of the Reagan administration to punish violators of the Community Reinvestment Act. During the Reagan administration aid to Section 8 was halved, federal assistance to cities was cut by 60 percent, etc.

  3. Tysons Engineer Avatar
    Tysons Engineer

    I think the data shows that cities are places of massive wealth for some. When you have 10-30 people who make billions then it does have a tendency to throw off all that other data.

    I think in order to fully understand it we need to see by district the full box chart showing the quartiles and with the outliers removed. I doubt the statistics would be as favorable to house seats in Alabama as they would be to those in Boston or NYC if that were the case. You can look at median income by district in the mean (pun unintended) time to see that some of those Democratic areas aren’t doing to shabby in terms of lifting up the middle class.

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