Monday’s New York Times has a fascinating map that shows how social mobility varies across the United States. Many things can be learned from this map—one of them is about last year’s election.
The first thing that strikes your eye on the mobility map is a broad red band across the deep South. That is where a child born to the bottom fifth of the income distribution has the least chance of rising to the top fifth as an adult.
Now look at another map, showing the change in presidential election results from 2008 to 2012. The same feature stands out, with remarkably similar contours, but this time it’s blue. Obama’s vote improved the most last year in just the places where social mobility is least.
I spent the last few days of the campaign knocking on doors at one end of that red/blue patch, in Danville, Virginia. Obama had overwhelming support of minority voters there, to be sure, but he also got a significant number of votes from whites—mostly, I got the clear impression, from those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Nearly everyone, even the least informed voters, knew what Mitt Romney had said about the 47 percent.
Where chances for economic advancement are poor, it would seem, people understood that Mitt was talking about them.
Benjamin Ross, an environmental consultant in Washington, is author of The Polluters: The Making of Our Chemically Altered Environment.