Walter Dean Burnham/Tom Ferguson: Why Poorer States Aren’t Buying What Romney’s Selling

By Walter Dean Burnham, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Texas, Austin, and a leading expert in the quantitative analysis of voting behavior, and Thomas Ferguson, Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Ferguson is the author of many books and articles, including Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems. Cross posted from Alternet

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one andlove the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” — Matthew 6:24 (NIV)

As Rick Santorum exits and Newt Gingrich fades out, who would have imagined that the Gospel of St. Matthew would provide the best handle on the GOP primaries this year?

Even in 2009, it was obvious that the Republican Establishment and many of America’s richest citizens were busy laying the groundwork for a very special effort to take back the White House in 2012. After the 2010 congressional elections produced the second largest swing in the two party vote against the Democrats since 1826, the focus on 2012 became ferocious. The road, though, was bumpy. But by late last year, as one candidate after another flamed out, the hopes of most Obama opponents were settling, sometimes ruefully, on Mitt Romney.

The logic behind their choice was simple and compelling: With the American economy stuck in the mud of the Great Recession, the time was ripe for a campaign centered on economics. With his glittering track record in private equity on Wall Street at Bain Capital before he entered politics, Romney stood out from the rest of the Republican field. He was someone who could convincingly lead a campaign targeted on the economy and jobs. The rush to his standard accelerated after he dramatically embraced many neo-conservative foreign policy positions and advisers.

The result was a shower of campaign money and generally favorable press. With a small army of super-rich supporters lining up to fund his super-PACs (including several who tried clumsily to hide their identities behind various corporate shells) and the rest of his fundraising racing ahead, Romney’s nomination looked inevitable. He could drown the rest of the field in a shower of attack ads.

But his campaign’s single-minded focus on economics ran squarely against the grain of the “holy owned subsidiary” that GOP elites had built up over decades to shift the focus of public discussion from their elite interests in deregulation and the upward redistribution of income through an emphasis on wedge issues like abortion and gay rights. In Iowa, Romney did indeed blow away all his main campaign challengers with a volley of expensive TV ads. But evangelical and conservative Catholic opponents coalesced around the last alternative to Romney who was still standing, Rick Santorum, to deny Romney a decisive victory.

Then came Newt Gingrich, the blast from the past who changed everything. Facing elimination in South Carolina, but retaining just enough ties to really big money briefly to float a super-PAC of his own, Gingrich boldly decided to breach the informal rhetorical conventions of GOP primaries.

The GOP’s “Occupy” Moment

He began to bite the hands that had fed him and so many others in the party for decades. Turning his legendary attack skills from Democrats on Republicans, the former Speaker of the House attacked private equity, bailouts, and federal largess to the super-rich. Rick Perry, and other Republicans, including some self-proclaimed Tea Party leaders followed. Santorum, too, drifted along with the new populist current, though far more circumspectly and only after distancing himself from Gingrich’s strident attacks.

The Republican Party’s “Occupy Wall Street” moment did not last long. Thanks to a powerful documentary attacking private equity that his super-PAC promoted and his willingness to throw red meat to voters in TV debates, Gingrich won in South Carolina.

But the reaction among moneyed party elites was fierce. Rush Limbaugh, theWall Street JournalNational Review, the president of Americans for Prosperity and angry business leaders hit back. A top Perry supporter in South Carolina, Colonial Group president Barry Wynn, abandoned the Texas governor’s already fading campaign and endorsed Romney, specifically citing the disrespect for free enterprise.

Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam Adelson, who had long been close to Gingrich, continued supporting the former Speaker. But as she dispatched another $5 million for the former Speaker’s super-PAC, Miriam Adelson admonished the Gingrich campaign that the money was to be used to “to continue the pro-Newt message…rather than attack Mr. Romney.”

But on the campaign trail Gingrich is hardly Gingrich if he can’t attack. Forced to switch tactics, he started pushing a far-fetched plan to bring down oil prices to $2.50 a gallon. By comparison with the slashing attacks on private equity and unfair taxes, this was a very weak brew. We do not think it at all far-fetched to suggest that his dependence on his donors was a major factor in Gingrich’s subsequent tailspin.

Santorum, whose campaign was also heavily dependent on super-PAC funding from a handful of super-rich donors, walked a careful line. He attacked Romney for supporting the Wall Street bailout. The millionaire former senator also guardedly talked up an alleged affinity for blue-collar workers, while generally sticking with themes more beloved of his donors, such as attacking the Environmental Protection Agency and pushing an energy policy of “drill, baby, drill.”

After the Fires

As the campaign’s sound and fury die down, one might wonder what remains of the GOP’s “Populist Moment.”

Like the frozen lava from past volcanic eruptions, the trained eye can easily perceive traces of the great explosion. Consider the two figures below. Figure 1 relates the percentage of the Romney vote in the GOP primaries to a measure of the strength of evangelical Protestantism in states. (Our measure relies on data from a religious census released in the year 2000 used in an earlier paper rather than voter self reports from polls.) The negative relationship is clear: votes for Romney, in the aggregate, fall as the percentage of evangelicals rises in states.

That is no surprise. Yet, as we look forward to the general election, there is a second relationship that is at least equally interesting. Many have noticed that within states, Romney does better in high-income areas. Figure 2 suggests that this relationship also holds between states: Romney’s voting percentage rises directly with a state’s median income. Or in other words, poor states find Romney resistible.

Social scientists and anyone who is inquisitive will naturally ask what happens if you consider both of these measures together. The answer, alas, is that with only 19 data points, you can’t say anything definitive. There is just not enough information to parse the importance of each. (In statistics, the problem is known as “multicollinearity.”)

But stopping there misses a key point, we think. The county maps and polls testifying to the importance of income in predicting the Romney vote within states (the latter have been oddly missing in some newspaper presentations) all suggest that the Republican Party is now divided fairly sharply along class lines as well as religious ones.

In the general election, this may be important. Right now GOP adherents are trumpeting their confidence that the “flock” (as many evangelical ministers might say) will all return to the fold, united in their desire to defeat President Obama. Many of them, in fact, are likely to do this. But we are hardly alone in observing that turnout in the GOP primaries has been mediocre. In a few states, turnout rose above the levels of 2008, but overall, turnout is down.

In the general election, moreover, Romney will have to reach well beyond his base, to independents and those less predisposed toward all things Republican. By contrast with past GOP nominees Romney’s appeal looks modest, limited largely to affluent voters. One may doubt that his endorsement of the Ryan budget will do much to broaden that appeal, either. To win in November, he is likely to need a stupefying large amount of money and a really good Etch-a-Sketch.

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About Matt Stoller

From 2011-2012, Matt was a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. He contributed to Politico, Alternet, Salon, The Nation and Reuters, focusing on the intersection of foreclosures, the financial system, and political corruption. In 2012, he starred in “Brand X with Russell Brand” on the FX network, and was a writer and consultant for the show. He has also produced for MSNBC’s The Dylan Ratigan Show. From 2009-2010, he worked as Senior Policy Advisor for Congressman Alan Grayson. You can follow him on Twitter at @matthewstoller.


  1. jake chase

    I cannot imagine anyone with the slightest grip on reality voting for either major party candidate this fall. Traditional appeals to the effect that, ‘yeah, our guy may be a chump and a bastard, but the other guy is worse,’ just fall flat. I suppose that means the eventual turnout will be reduced by two or three dozen. Who can possibly understand what motivates the remaining hundred million odd voters? This guy’s guess is as good as anybody’s.

    1. Paul Tioxon

      Jake, you don’t vote. I understand the reasons why you don’t. What do you do to influence the social order as it affects you in your own life, what do you do in your self interest, and the interest of your immediate community to bring order and continuity in order to enjoy what you currently have and protect it from being diminished by people who ARE organized and are diametrically opposed to you? What do you do about those that capture the institutions of the government on a local and national level because they vote, and fill the offices of the mechanism of the state? Do you see electoral capitulation as a valid response, some sort of energy saving tactic while you’re busy elsewhere building up an alternative power base or is it something else?

      1. jake chase


        What I do is attempt to understand reality, explain my views to others, act on them to protect those dependent upon me. Please tell me who I can vote for that would make things easier for anyone but the corporate plutocracy.

      2. Anonymous Jones

        From observation, I think his strategy is to spend time on a website that has become almost hermetically sealed from any ethos other than a deep and abiding schadenfreude and zeal to see this entire country punished deeply through an economic meltdown. The zeal of the denizens of this particular site seems to be borne of a commanding conviction regarding the power of morality plays and desire for “justice” (only on their own terms, of course, and they are completely blameless, as always, about this and everything else in their lives). One is shunned from this community for even implying that the current fraud and corruption is hardly different than the plutocratic corruption that brought us slavery, the systematic betrayal and murder of almost all indigenous peoples, banana republics in almost all the neighboring island and latin american countries so that our rich could exploit the labor of such countries, and deeply corrupt police departments that, during the days of prohibition, one might say were so corrupt that it would be difficult to design a law enforcement agency that could be more corrupt (not saying it would be impossible, just very, very difficult for any but the most creative and diligent human beings to manage to sustain such corruption were it a goal to do so).

        The second leg to jake’s strategy is to call most of the commentariat on such website “idiots.” It’s his favorite word, and its power in transforming the world into one that favors his self-interest knows no bounds apparently.

        Who knows? As I have said before, I know nothing about almost everything. Mr. chase’s “idiot” strategy might work. Who’s omniscient enough to say it won’t?

        1. jake chase

          AJ, some nice points, but I just call ’em like I see ’em. Call that a strategy if you want to. Incidentally, I do find myself overdoing the i**ot references. Who has time for precision on a blog? I have noticed though that the censor tends to reject long posts containing the word *di*ot.

  2. F. Beard

    The negative relationship is clear: votes for Romney, in the aggregate, fall as the percentage of evangelicals rises in states.

    No surprise. Mormonism is a non-Christian cult.

    The Republicans are seriously shooting themselves in the foot with evangelicals and Catholics as it becomes obvious that their fascist economic policies trump everything else. And as those economic policies fail for more and more Americans then the question becomes “What good are the Republicans?” And even courting Jews with a pro-Israel policy is not a sure thing because American Jews tend to be liberal wrt to economics.

    The Democrats have a great opportunity IF they will allow Catholics and Evangelicals to rejoin the party by compromising on the abortion issue. The RCC once allowed abortions up to 40 days – till the so-called “Quickening”. With modern testing or morning-after pills surely that is a reasonable restriction?

    Or be stubborn and watch a new party which better represents Americans arise.

    1. Tertium Squid

      In national elections, Mormons have generally been willing to vote for candidates adhering to other religions. I won’t be voting for Romney, but it’s good to see that, for many Republican voters at least, millions of $$$, tv commercials and good looks can overcome any lingering bias.

      And I saw an interesting article – five in six Protestant ministers say LDS are not Christian, most feeling very strongly so. However, that means one in every six Protestant ministers believes that LDS ARE Christians.

      Focus on the positive!

      1. F. Beard

        However, that means one in every six Protestant ministers believes that LDS ARE Christians. Tertium Squid

        Hah! How many of those 1 in 6 Protestant ministers are actually Christian themselves?

        1. Tertium Squid

          Certainly some, I hope. Are the 5/6 Mormon-condemners beyond reproach I wonder, or are they suspect too? Christianity seems such a Country Club sometimes.

          And on politics:

          Southern Evangelical Republicans never had a problem sharing the big tent with Mormons until a suitable establishment-touting LDS candidate came along.

          1. F. Beard

            Are the 5/6 Mormon-condemners beyond reproach I wonder, or are they suspect too? Tertium Squid


            However, it is condemnation of Mormonism, not Mormons, that is the issue.

          1. F. Beard

            Politically, Mormonism is a cult because many Christians think it is a cult including myself. I’ve long since forgotten WHY I think Mormonism is a cult but nothing has led me to reconsider since that conclusion.

            As for the “no true Scotsman fallacy”, I don’t judge anyone’s heart. That’s God’s job. However, I am free to judge belief systems and I have. And it’s not one way either. The Mormons consider that Christians are in error.

          2. Tertium Squid

            “And it’s not one way either. The Mormons consider that Christians are in error.”

            As far as admission to the Christianity Club, most LDS have a more expansive view of “Christianity” than do their Evangelical friends. Whatever the pecularities cultivated among the various sects, there are people of great love and sincerity in all of them, and the reason those good people got that way is in large part due to the principles they learned from their churches and put into practice.

            As for believing that other Christian faiths and creeds are in error, that’s only true to a point. We would say that the faiths of the world are incomplete. Not flat-out wrong. They have things to learn from us, but there are things we can learn from them.

            I will take truth wherever I can get it. I have found a great lot of it in the doctrines of the LDS church.

            From a list intended to briefly describe major LDS doctrines:

            We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing egood to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we fhope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.


            We might say that we would add to the faith of others, not take anything away from it. Some LDS do this better than others. God forbid I harm or discourage the faith of another man. But if I can add to his faith, or have him add to mine, then by all means let’s share.

          3. F. Beard

            God forbid I harm or discourage the faith of another man. TS

            That’s a wise strategy while you outnumbered. May you always be so. No harm in that, eh?

    2. Tertium Squid

      (And I should add that along with money and looks , establishment imprimatur is crucial – for many voters it doesn’t matter who the candidate is, what their views and beliefs. They’ll vote for whoever looks like a winner.)

    3. Min

      “The RCC once allowed abortions up to 40 days – till the so-called “Quickening”.

      Life begins at 40! :)

      1. F. Beard

        Oops! I looked up the definition of “Quickening” and found this disturbing bit:

        In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a woman convicted of a capital crime could claim a delay in her execution if she were pregnant; a woman who did so was said to “plead the belly”. In Ireland on 16 March 1831 Baron Pennefather in Limerick stated that pregnancy was not alone sufficient for a delay but there had to be quickening. See Limerick Evening Post and Clare Sentinel 18 March 1831. from

        In Roman Catholic Ireland of all places! Is this not pure hypocrisy and unbridled blood-lust that they couldn’t even wait till the child was born before executing the mother?

        I’m appalled.

        1. ScottS

          “Roman Catholic” Ireland? Ireland has no official religion. It’s a secular republic. Also, there are three colors in the Irish flag, not one.

          But I take your words to mean that Catholics are a monolithic bloc, and since the Pope professes to be against abortion, all Catholics are.

          To which I say which organized religion is ever consistent in what it says and what it does? The stench of hypocrisy is what drives Catholics and fundie Protestants away from dogma-driven organized religion forever.

          1. F. Beard

            My assumption (perhaps wrong) was that Ireland in 1831 was almost entirely Roman Catholic except for Northern Ireland.

            But my broader point is that (to my surprise) the RCC has not always had such an absolute stance against abortion to the point that even a pregnant woman could be executed in a heavily Catholic country!

            And the takeaway is that a reasonable compromise might therefore be arranged between the Democratic Party and American Catholics wrt abortion especially since the Vatican has lost influence.

          2. Philip Pilkington

            Law in Ireland in 1831 would, I imagine, have been based on British law — given that we were essentially an ‘Occupied Territory’. The Catholic Church rose in political influence mainly with the rise of the Irish state. It’s influence peaked, I think, in the early or mid-60s. But that’s a very haphazard estimation.

        2. Jessica

          In 1831, Ireland was ruled by a Protestant British government that could not have cared less about the religious sentiments of the Irish people.

          1. F. Beard

            Oops! Excellent point. Good ole England where they’d hang you for stealing a loaf of bread. I don’t suppose being pregnant would make much difference to those sick bastards.

      2. reslez

        40 days? According to Wikipedia on quickening, “fetal motion can sometimes be felt as early as 14 weeks”. That’s pretty darn close to the Supreme Court’s dividing line of 16 weeks, after which the state is free to add restrictions. Time to stop second-guessing well established law.

        1. F. Beard

          Well, my main point is that the RCC has not always been so absolute wrt abortion so some compromise should be possible especially since the Vatican has lost credibility over the pedophiles in the priesthood.

    4. bob

      Just show some pictures of the mormon baptism baths that look like something “of the devils work” to the good christian folk.

      google “mormon baptism bath”, images

      Look for the beasts that encircle the shrine. All the christian fundamentalists need, on top of that image, is a bunch of boys in it. Heresy, with some anti-gay sprinkled on top.

      I think that may be his built in self destruct, “they” already have who “they” want in charge.

      Best part? He paid for himself, allowing the GOP to stockpile funds for the next election.

  3. Tertium Squid

    That the putative Republican nominee would be an establishment tool was never really in doubt. The interesting thing is that with Romney they are going with a rather emblematic 1%er, rather than a pretend populist stalking horse.

    As for the general election itself, don’t underestimate Romney’s ability to reach beyond “his base”, as the man doesn’t exactly have a base to begin with. His millions got him elected as governor of Massachussetts and not somewhere like Idaho.

    And just for fun, rather than dull discussion about “depressed turnout”: Someone like Gingrich would be a perfect candidate for a Wallace-style southern revolt candidacy. Wouldn’t that be fun?

    1. Glen

      Ron Paul is always running. For a guy that professes to want to shrink the Federal government he has apparently made government and running for office the family business.

      I actually hope he runs as a third party on the ballot as I would like as many third parties as possible. Hopefully we’ll get another viable national party as the Republican and Democratic parties are obviously non representative of the American people.

      1. ScottS

        Interesting point. I personally never trust anyone running for elected office who is against government. It’s a contradiction in terms unless the candidate’s first act, once in power, is to remove their own position.

  4. Doug Terpstra

    The “multicollinear” cognitive dissonance in red states must be positively smoke-out-of-the-ears excruciating, based on those two graphs. But for the rest of us, who could possibly have imagined that our choice in the end would be whether to serve Mammon or lesser Mammon? As Pink Floyd would ask, ‘who knows which is which and who is who?” Well, let’s see, who can best deliver Social Security to Wall Street over the objections of the angry but unfailingly submissive liberals? Who can best play the reluctant messiah warmonger in Israel’s next war, on Persia? Who can deliver the black vote? And finally, which anti-Christ, Mormon or Muslim, will least alienate (or neutralize) the religious chauvinists?

    So, the GOP’s “anybody-but”, “worst of all evils” Romney remains at last to oppose the anointed one of AIPAC/Wall Street/MIC. This could hardly have been better scripted, though really any of the GOP ‘candidates’, save RP, would have served just as well. Now that there’s so little need for pretense, Democracy Theater has become boringly predictable. And yet, even so, before the final anointing, for the next interminable six months, we must still be forced to suffer the breathless 24/7 horse race. “And they’re off! It’s Romney by a nose! No, wait! Was there a gaffe? What say the latest polls? Let’s hear from the experts …!” Just shoot me now.

    Obama campaign headquarters, MSNBC, must be positively atwitter over this shocking, breaking news. Ed Schultz will now labor tirelessly to deliver the union rubes, Al Sharptongue the restive black community, and for the LGBT contingent, Rachel will be singing opera most nights from here thru the November [s]elections. What a show we have for you!

    1. patricia

      “…who could possibly have imagined that our choice in the end would be whether to serve Mammon or lesser Mammon?”

      Yes, there’s not even rumor of discussion between God and money–neither party, anywhere. Even the best we can hope for, people turning towards the more accurate issues of rich versus poor, is still all about money.

      Meaningful conversation/action re justice and mercy, compassion and truth? “Socialism”! “F-ing retards!”


      1. F. Beard

        Liberals and Progressives shot themselves in the foot by ignoring that the poor basically need only one thing – money. Instead, the rich were to be allowed money and credit while the poor were given to be dubious social services instead!

  5. xyzzy

    It gives me a big laugh that anyone believes that there is any difference between Obama and Romney, or that anything either of them says corresponds to what they will actually do in office.

    1. Synopticist

      You have a choice between a just right of centre president, and a hard right former leveraged buyout guy.
      If you’re all to dumb to see any difference, you deserve what you’ll get.

      1. jake chase

        If you are inclined to worship the differences you are part of the problem. How do you like that toadying corporatist clown you helped to elect?

  6. patricia

    “… he is likely to need a stupefying large amount of money and a really good Etch-a-Sketch.”

    He will find them. And Obama has a stupefying large amount of money and a really good teleprompter. Vote turn-out will be lowest in generations. How much will it cost per vote, in the end? News at 6!

    Why isn’t there a minimum of votes by which “absolutely no confidence anywhere” is declared and we are pushed into a citizens’ conference of constitutional crisis (CCCC)?

    1. F. Beard

      Why isn’t there a minimum of votes by which “absolutely no confidence anywhere” is declared and we are pushed into a citizens’ conference of constitutional crisis (CCCC)? patricia

      Excellent question! Ballots should allow MAXIMUM choices for voters so we can ACTIVELY vote our displeasure. Some choices should be:

      1) None of the above.
      2) My first choice
      3) My second choice
      4) My third choice, etc.
      5) Absolutely NOT this guy
      6) Write in

  7. Hugh

    I agree with xyzzy. The field is now set. We know which pro-rich corporatist Republican is going to run against the incumbent pro-rich corporatist Democrat. Knowing that we are going to get a pro-rich corporatist either way is the reason that horse race political handicapping is of little interest to me.

  8. Matt

    Anyone who lived in Massachusetts from 1994-2006 knows that no one in the world has a better Etch-a-Sketch than Mitt Romney.

  9. They didn't leave me a choice

    What a fat load of bullshit this article is.

    >Even in 2009, it was obvious that the Republican Establishment and many of America’s richest citizens were busy laying the groundwork for a very special effort to take back the White House in 2012.

    As if they ever lost the white house, or any part of the government in the first place. Just because two bunch of clowns play yet another round of pretend democracy doesn’t mean there is any reality behind the act. The only difference between the two wings of the single party system is how much lube they use when they fuck you in the ass with a spiked dildo.

    Throw in a few charts and you’ve got an “impressive” display of political “analysis” which amounts to little more than running interference for the 1% and pretending there is an actual democratic event going on in the official political arena. It is a sad thing that Yves lets this kind of crap get posted on her blog, might even call it a travesty.

    Isn’t it about time we jettison these “serious people” with “serious agendas” and reveal them for the charlatans they are?

  10. MrColdWaterOfRealityMan

    The fix is in. Romney loses, just as the RNC wanted all along. Look, the Republicans aren’t stupid. They know the economic “recovery” is largely hand-waving fakery and that nothing else will “grow” the world economy but bigger and better bubbles, which inevitably pop. The next four years is a mess of economic problems and higher gas prices. Who wants to be the party in power when *that* happens?

    No, better to be the loyal opposition, keep the checks rolling in and hope for the better times that will never come.

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