The Blog of Curtis Chambers

The Cause of Liberal Thinking

with 6 comments

I was driving around the other day and started thinking about politics for some reason.  I think it was perhaps because of all the talk of presidential candidates recently in the news and possibly because I bought both of Barack Obama’s books to read.  My mind tends to wander a lot when I drive and that’s when the best ideas and theories come to me.

Anyway, I realized that the most liberal states in the union are also the richest states, while the most conservative states tend to be the poorest states.  However, the stereotype of rich people is that they’re very conservative.  How is it possible that the rich states are liberal?

Red Blue States

Perhaps it’s not people with lots of money that make California the 5th biggest economy in the world, but the sheer population of it?  However, if that was the case then Texas would be liberal since it has the 2nd largest population of the states and it’s known as one of the most conservative states.

Population doesn’t directly correlate to wealth either.  If that was the case then India would be the second richest country in the world, but that’s not the case.  It does have the 12th biggest GDP in the world, but ranks 132nd in terms of GDP per capita.  Compare that to the United States, which has the biggest GDP in the world and ranks 4th in GDP per capita.  Our wealth is definitely more spread out among the people than in India due to our large middle class, but that still doesn’t seem to answer my question.

Perhaps maybe it is population density that leads to a more liberal state of mind?  Here are the population densities of some of the most liberal cities in America:

  • New York City:  27,083/sq mi
  • San Francisco:  15,834/sq mi
  • Chicago:  12,470/sq mi
  • Boston:  12,327/sq mi
  • Berkeley:  9,823.3/sq mi
  • Seattle:  6,901/sq mi

Major areas that are more conservative like San Diego and Orange County fall way under this mark with population densities of 3,871.5/sq mi and 3,606/sq mi, respectively.  I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule as there are lots of hippie communes in the middle of Oregon, but for the most part I think that a higher population density leads to more liberal thinking.

I’d love to hear other thoughts or ideas on this matter.

Written by Curtis Chambers

September 28, 2007 at 12:43 am

Posted in Politics, Society

6 Responses

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  1. This has been looked at in other terms, as well. For instance, the states that receive a net of federal funds tended to vote for GWB, while states that paid more taxes than they received back in federal funds tended to vote for Gore:

    As to your main point: the more likely you are to encounter people who view the world differently from you, who are from other cultures, who have other religions, from different economic classes, who have different views on sexuality, etc. the more likely you are to be open to those different ideas.

    When you can attach a personal face to something, it’s difficult to hate that thing. This idea has been explored countless times scientifically, through film and book, etc. When you live in a high-density population center, you’re more likely to have friends and acquaintances with different views. This humanizes those views.

    American Liberalism is characterized in part by its openness social-welfare programs, its openness to other cultures (e.g., against the Mexico border fence and rendition) and an openness to other lifestyle choices (e.g. pro gay-marriage, against Christian faith-based government programs).


    September 28, 2007 at 11:14 am

  2. I agree that exposure to many cultures is probably one of the leading causes of American Liberalism. Those cities that I listed above as the most dense are also the cities that tend to be where immigrants start out in this country. In fact, I’d even be willing to argue that the reason those cities are so dense is because of the high concentrate of immigrants.

    People moved to those cities and created small enclaves where they could feel at home and since they usually had little money when they came to America, they were packed into tight spaces with many other people to save money. Places like Chinatown in SF and Hell’s Kitchen in NY are perfect examples of that.


    September 28, 2007 at 12:25 pm

  3. What’s interesting to me about the question of wealth being a dividing line is that liberal thinking tends to be less fiscally focused comparatively speaking, which seems backward to what I would expect being that the richest locations are also the most liberal
    I like to think that education level has a large roll to play in this. Maybe it’s my liberal sense of pride, but I tend to see that more conservative locations tend to have a lower education median. It would be telling to study how many people from each state complete a college education – and out of those people, what percentage of them goes liberal vs. conservative.


    October 11, 2007 at 10:40 am

  4. Yeah, that’s definitely a good point as well. Each of those high density cities that I listed above are hotbeds for prestigious universities. And even states that are traditionally conservative states like Texas have liberal cities centered around prestigious schools such as Austin.


    October 11, 2007 at 11:07 am

  5. I’d have to agree with your reasoning. As population density increases you have to rely on people more. For instance you can go to your neighbors apartment and ask for an egg. Also you realize your actions affect other people, like when the cops have to tell you to turn your music down. Since the liberals/Democrats promote the general welfare of the population they get the votes.

    Republicans tend to support individualism, and since those in rural areas must rely more on themselfs they favor conservatives/Republicans.

    Joshua Davis

    December 17, 2007 at 5:55 pm

  6. I agree that there is a correlation between wealth and liberalism. And I think there is a causative factor for liberal thinking: the more one rejects one’s traditional roots for the purpose of coexisting with others in a heterogeneous society, the more liberal one will be.For instance, Bill Clinton rejected his rural roots when he got to Georgetown. Likewise, intellectual Blacks hate their race, Vatican 2 Catholics learn to be ashamed of their faith, and Jews attempt to downplay their ethno-cultural roots and may even change their names. So those two conditions, if met, can make a liberal. So your point that the wealthy states tend to promote more liberalism is valid: pluralism makes more liberals.


    April 19, 2009 at 6:12 pm

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