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The Myth of Red State Welfare

Posted by on Sep. 23, 2013 at 3:38 AM
  • 17 Replies

September 17, 2013


By Sierra Rayne


During the last few years, a key liberal talking point has been "red state welfare." The argument is that the states that get more from the federal government than they pay in taxes tend to be red states, whereas the states that give more to the federal government than they pay in taxes tend to be blue states. This "red state welfare" hypothesis falls completely apart when we look at the data.

The so-called top 10 "red states" on welfare are New Mexico, Mississippi, Alaska, Louisiana, West Virginia, North Dakota, Alabama, South Dakota, Virginia, and Kentucky.

The purportedly bottom 10 "blue states" not on welfare are New Jersey, Nevada, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Illinois, Delaware, California, New York, and Colorado.

To show how mindless this liberal proposition is, the "red state welfare" argument appears to be entirely based only on how each state voted in the most recent presidential election. This results in entirely junk science.

First off, states that are either "haves" (i.e., give more to the federal government than they receive) or "have-nots" (i.e., get more from the federal government than they give) do not just arise overnight. State finances take decades to develop as either "haves" or "have-nots," so looking at only a single election is meaningless. Rather, we need to look at how a state has voted over several decades to obtain any relevant insights.

Furthermore, it's equally nonsensical to just consider how a state votes for the president. We also need to look at how each state votes for its senators, representatives, and even governors. Given how Congress has the "power of the purse," this is core to assessing how a state's welfare status relates to its Democrat versus Republican voting record. And this is where the "red state welfare" hypothesis disintegrates.

The following table shows the percentage of person-years between 1980 and 2013 for which each of the top and bottom welfare states voted Democrat at the presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial levels.

 

Clearly, the so-called red states are far more likely overall to vote for a Republican presidential candidate than his Democratic counterpart when compared to the supposed blue states. But look at New Mexico, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Colorado. New Mexico, Virginia, and New Hampshire have been evenly split on presidential candidates since 1980. Nevada and Colorado voted for both Bush 43 wins, and Colorado even went Republican during the 1996 Clinton landslide.

At the senatorial level, how can you call North Dakota, Louisiana, and West Virginia "red states" when their voting record is overwhelmingly Democratic over the past three decades? Even South Dakota and New Mexico fail the "red state" test. West Virginia hasn't had a Republican senator since before 1960!

On the other side of the aisle, New Hampshire -- supposedly a blue state -- has only elected a single Democratic senator (the currently serving Jeanne Shaheen) since 1980. Minnesota and Colorado also fail the blue state designation based on who they have put in the Senate over this timeframe.

In the House of Representatives, it is absurd to characterize Mississippi, West Virginia, North Dakota, and South Dakota as red states when they have elected more Democrats than Republicans since 1980. North Dakota and West Virginia's choices for the House of Representatives are dominantly blue.

Similarly, New Hampshire and Delaware have elected predominantly Republicans in the House, and somehow they are blue states? Colorado and Nevada also don't pass the blue state test, and as recently as the 111th Congress, five of Colorado's seven representatives were Republican.

The gubernatorial comparison also strikes a blow to any "red state welfare" claims. There is no significant general difference in the overall red versus blue character of these states' governors. South Dakota hasn't had a Democratic governor in over 35 years, whereas Kentucky has only had one Republican governor since 1971. California's governors have been dominantly Republican for many decades, as have those of Illinois, Minnesota, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

The "red state welfare" vitriol in the left-wing media has been intense. Witness these statements from a 2011 Business Insider piece on the topic:

"[R]ed states ... are overwhelmingly the Welfare Queen States. Yes, that's right. Red States -- the ones governed by folks who think government is too big and spending needs to be cut -- are a net drain on the economy, taking in more federal spending than they pay out in federal taxes. They talk a good game, but stick Blue States with the bill ... Go ahead and bookmark this article. The next time some smarmy teabagger tries to tell you it's liberals who are ruining the country and spending us into oblivion, kindly point them to the evidence that shows it is GOP states, not Democrat states, who are Welfare Queens. It is GOP states who spend more than they collect in taxes. It is GOP states who are out of balance, nationally. See if they still want to cut off funding when it means no more socialism for slave states."

Here is what Slate had to say last year:

"Now, one more cross-reference: these facts compared with the know-nothing rhetoric of the Tea Party. There are only two ways to parse that result: one is ignorance -- which we should be willing to forgive in anyone as long as they revise their views when faced with reality. And the second? Selfish hypocrisy. How else can you explain the fact that the denizens of the most welfare dependent states in the country -- dare we say, those who enjoy the most benefits from socialism -- profess to abhor welfare?"

Fascinating storyline the liberals tried to construct. Too bad it is entirely false.

by on Sep. 23, 2013 at 3:38 AM
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Replies (1-10):
grandmab125
by Gold Member on Sep. 23, 2013 at 3:52 AM
1 mom liked this

 As is most of the tripe they put out there:

Fascinating storyline the liberals tried to construct. Too bad it is entirely false

grandma B

Carpy
by Platinum Member on Sep. 23, 2013 at 6:13 AM
3 moms liked this

Very true.  Who governs  the state is what you have to look at.  Democrat controlled states are fails.

Quoting grandmab125:

 As is most of the tripe they put out there:

Fascinating storyline the liberals tried to construct. Too bad it is entirely false


Minnow Slayer

MomTiara19
by Silver Member on Sep. 23, 2013 at 8:11 AM

I love CT:)

 

JoJoBean8
by Silver Member on Sep. 23, 2013 at 10:22 AM

Interesting

Pema_Jampa
by Celeste on Sep. 23, 2013 at 10:23 AM
1 mom liked this

Who to believe ? Business Insider or the Slate. ;-)

sarahjz
by Bronze Member on Sep. 23, 2013 at 12:03 PM
Interesting. TFS.
MsDenuninani
by Bronze Member on Sep. 23, 2013 at 1:02 PM
1 mom liked this

Simplifying politics into "red" and "blue" has never made sense.

That said, there is no reason given for choosing 1980 as a starting point.  That she did suggests she's trying to manipulate the data to reach the outcome she wants.  if she's going to set those specific date parameters, she owes it to the reader to giver us her reasons for doing so, especially if she's busy accusing other people of using "junk science."

MsDenuninani
by Bronze Member on Sep. 23, 2013 at 1:05 PM

 What's your basis for that opinion? And how do you determine what party "controls" the state?


Quoting Carpy:

Very true.  Who governs  the state is what you have to look at.  Democrat controlled states are fails.

Quoting grandmab125:

 As is most of the tripe they put out there:

Fascinating storyline the liberals tried to construct. Too bad it is entirely false



 

grandmab125
by Gold Member on Sep. 23, 2013 at 1:26 PM

 Ummm....who are the gov's and state reps and senators?  Then add in mayors and local and county boards.

Take IL for an example.  The dems control the Govenorship, the house, the senate, most of the cities.....especially the big cities....and towns.  Now, logic would tell you this is a democratically controlled state.

Quoting MsDenuninani:

 What's your basis for that opinion? And how do you determine what party "controls" the state?

 

Quoting Carpy:

Very true.  Who governs  the state is what you have to look at.  Democrat controlled states are fails.

Quoting grandmab125:

 As is most of the tripe they put out there:

Fascinating storyline the liberals tried to construct. Too bad it is entirely false


 

 

 

grandma B

Pema_Jampa
by Celeste on Sep. 23, 2013 at 2:10 PM

Republican-leaning states get more in federal dollars than they pay in taxes.

'Red State Socialism' graphic says GOP-leaning states get lion's share of federal dollars

Many GOP-leaning states get more in federal funding than they contribute in federal taxes.

That's the point made by a graphic that’s circulating on the Internet, titled "Red State Socialism." A reader recently pointed us to it and asked us to check it out. The chart suggests that Republicans are hypocritical for bashing the federal government and federal spending, when Republican-leaning states are reaping the lion’s share of federal dollars.

The graphic emphasizes this point by showing two tables side by side. States that send more money to the federal government than they receive in federal spending are on the left, and they are primarily blue (or Democratic) states. The table on the right shows states that receive more in federal spending than they contribute in taxes. This table is predominantly red (or Republican).

The graphic says: "Of the 32 states which receive more than they contribute, 27 states (84%) are REPUBLICAN. Of the 18 states which contribute more than they receive, 14 states (78%) are DEMOCRATIC."

The source cited is a report by the Tax Foundation, a business-backed group. We checked with the Tax Foundation to see whether the data was legitimate and confirmed that it is. Spokesman Richard Morrison said that the chart uses 2005 data that was published in 2007.

So the graphic is solidly grounded in reality. But we see two reasons for caution when using this chart.

How do you define red and blue states?

The graphic defines Republican states as those "that have voted Republican in a previous presidential election." Because the data is from 2005, that means states that voted for George W. Bush in 2004, which is a larger number than voted Republican in 2008.

But the definition of states as Republican or Democratic isn't immutable. Just four years later, in the 2008 election, six states in the right-hand chart and three states in the left-hand chart switched from Republican to Democratic, making both charts more heavily blue.

We should also note that some of the margins of victory were quite narrow. In fact, a dozen or more states can be characterized in most elections as swing states, which might be more appropriately shaded in purple.

The data is seven years old

As we noted, the data is for 2005. To the author’s credit, this is disclosed prominently, and because it’s the most recent data of its type available, we can hardly fault the creator of the graphic for using it. Still, since the data has almost certainly shifted in the interim, particularly with the 2009 stimulus and the general increase in deficit spending, those patterns could have shifted as well.

"Because of the high deficit spending we’re seeing at the federal level, it’s likely that every state is currently receiving more in federal spending than its population paid in federal income taxes," the Tax Foundation's Morrison said.

We tracked down the creator of the graphic, Jesse Erlbaum. Erlbaum said he was inspired to create the graphic after watching a presidential debate scene from the television show The West Wing, in which fictional Democratic President Jed Bartlet needles his Republican opponent, the governor of Florida, for seeming to diminish the importance of federal funds that his state receives.

Erlbaum said he created the graphic "for fun" in October 2008, just before Barack Obama won the presidency. "Based on that, I selected the most recent previous presidential election cycle, namely 2004." That explains the chart’s use of older electoral data; it simply hasn’t been updated by subsequent posters. Erlbaum conceded the concerns we laid out.

"It's definitely true that choosing a different election cycle and basis for assigning red versus blue will produce different results," he said. As for the age of the data, Erlbaum said, "I would love to see an update of this report."

Erlbaum added, "I've listened to feedback about this chart for a few years now, and folks who don't like the insinuation it makes will always come up with some explanation. Popular ones are that there are more military jobs, more retirees, more farmers, and fewer cities in red states. I don't buy it. Whatever the excuse, the data is clear: These states receive more than they pay in. Everything else is just a rationalization based on someone deciding that one reason for spending money is good, and another is bad. This chart makes no such distinction. I say, ‘Deal with it!’ The facts are the facts."

Our ruling

The graphic’s data uses data from the 2004 election rather than 2008, and the figures on taxes and spending date back to 2005. There are fewer states that would be labeled Republican based on the 2008 election, and there’s a strong likelihood that tax and spending data would have changed as well. Because of this likelihood, we downgrade the accuracy of this generally accurate chart to Mostly True.

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