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Another View of Frank's 'Kansas'

by EDM Staff

Philip Klinkner has a post over at Polysigh discussing Larry M. Bartels's critique of Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas, one of the most influential books about social class and partisan politics of recent years. Bartels's paper, which was presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in September challenges a number of Frank's core arguments. For example, from the abstract of Bartels's paper:

Has the white working class abandoned the Democratic Party? No. White voters in the bottom third of the income distribution have actually become more reliably Democratic in presidential elections over the past half-century, while middle- and upper-income white voters have trended Republican. Low-income whites have become less Democratic in their partisan identifications, but at a slower rate than more affluent whites – and that trend is entirely confined to the South, where Democratic identification was artificially inflated by the one-party system of the Jim Crow era.

Has the white working class become more conservative? No. The average views of low-income whites have remained virtually unchanged over the past 30 years. (A pro-choice shift on abortion in the 1970s and ‘80s has been partially reversed since the early 1990s.) Their positions relative to more affluent white voters – generally less liberal on social issues and less conservative on economic issues – have also remained virtually unchanged.

Do working class “moral values” trump economics? No. Social issues (including abortion) are less strongly related to party identification and presidential votes than economic issues are, and that is even more true for whites in the bottom third of the income distribution than for more affluent whites. Moreover, while social issue preferences have become more strongly related to presidential votes among middle- and high-income whites, there is no evidence of a corresponding trend among low-income whites.

Klinkner adds a critique of his own, demonstrating that Kansas has long been a GOP stronghold. Bartels's and Klinkner's analyses provide an interesting take on an important book, and should generate some buzz in Dem strategy circles.