Saturday, September 6, 2008

Where everybody knows your name

Andrew Gelman (Stats Professor at Columbia University) provides the following graphs of state population size and governor approval rating:

These charts show that governors in small states tend to be more popular than those in large states. He offers several explanations for this trend:
  • In a large state, there will be more ambitious politicians on the other side, eager to knock off the incumbent governor;
  • Small states often have part-time legislatures and thus the governor is involved in less political conflict;
  • Small states (notably Alaska) tend to get more funds per capita from the federal government, and it’s easier to be popular when you can disburse more funds;
  • Large states tend to be more heterogeneous and so it’s harder to keep all the voters happy.
Tyler Cowen offers an additional theory:
I have an additional hypothesis. People from small states, especially atypical small states, sometimes have an inferiority complex vis-a-vis the other states or regions. Taking pride in their politicians is one way of compensating for that. Furthermore there is often less to do in underpopulated states and is not pride sometimes a substitute for action? New Yorkers are not in fact so proud of the Metropolitan Opera, but in parts of Wisconsin the Green Bay Packers are king.
I think this is a pretty good list. I would, however, highlight the point about small states receiving more federal money per capita, giving governors more resources to please their constituents. This is certainly worth mentioning as Alaska ranked #1 in pork barrel spending, receiving more federal money per capita than any other state. Combine that with no income, property or sales tax (the state's budget is heavily subsidized by $11 billion in oil taxes and royalties) and it's not so hard to keep people happy. As economist Chris Edwards said of Alaska, "It's like Dubai. It gets enormous royalties and taxes and fees of various types from oil...''

Then again, maybe small states just have better values than large ones...

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