Politics vs. Economics II

My big picture take on the recent elections: Those doing well in the transition to a knowledge-based economy and minorities voted D. Those doing poorly in the transition and owners and top management of companies voted R. An over simplification obviously. But look at the election results maps and you find a strong pattern that central cities and highly educated suburbs voted D and blue collar suburbs and small town/rural areas voted R overwhelmingly. Since there are more of the later than the former, the Rs crushed the Ds particularly in historically blue collar states like Michigan.

The question is “is this cyclical or structural?” Is this about voters punishing the Ds for a lousy economy? Or more structural in that blue collar and rural voters are resistant to the kind of America that goes with becoming a knowledge-based economy? Neither is very helpful for those of us who believe that the only path back to prosperity for Michigan and America is in building a far more knowledge-based economy. But if the voting patterns of 2010 are mainly structural, implementing the kind of policy agenda we advocate will be particularly difficult.

Given that technology and globalization – forces far more powerful than politics – require that we make the transition to a knowledge-based economy to be prosperous, the places that do the best will be those who figure out how to overcome the political headwinds or find ways to make the transition without supporting public policy.

Before the election Richard Florida wrote a really insightful article in the Atlantic on this topic. Read it! The title is “It’s Not the Economy, Stupid” . Florida clearly believes that the 2010 voting patterns are largely structural. Writing before the election, using polling data, he was quite accurate in predicting the results. His unit of analysis is states. As he writes: While rich voters trend Republican, rich states trend Democratic… . The opposite holds as well. Though poor and minority voters overwhelmingly pull the lever for Democrats, poor states consistently end up in the Republican column.

Florida found in addition to income that class and values (what he calls post-materialsim) correlated with how states voted. Creative class states D, blue collar states R. He also finds that both more religious states and those with a lower proportions of gays and immigrants voted R. While those less religious and with a higher proportion of gays and immigrants voted D. Maybe most interesting he found that these factors correlated better in explaining voting behavior than cyclical factors like the unemployment rate and housing prices.

It may well be that the real division in American and Michigan politics is over competing visions of what we want the state and country to be in the future. That this is not about how to get to a consensus destination. But rather about where we want to go. If it is the later – and my guess is that it is – that is far more difficult to work through.

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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.