When social scientists examine relationships between income and voting decisions, their measures implicitly compare people to others in the national economic distribution. Yet an absolute income level (e.g., $57,617 per year, the 2016 national median) does not have the same meaning in Clay County, Georgia, where the 2016 median income was $22,100, as it does in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, where the median income was $224,000. We address this limitation by incorporating a measure of one's place in her ZIP code's income distribution. We apply this approach to the question of the relationship between income and whites' voting decisions in the 2016 presidential election, and test for generalizability in elections since 2000. The results show that Trump's support was concentrated among nationally poor whites but also among locally affluent whites, complicating claims about the role of income in that election. This pattern suggests that social scientists would do well to conceive of income in relative terms: relative to one's neighbors.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Political Science and International Relations