State Income Inequality and Presidential Election Turnout and Outcomes


  • *Direct correspondence to James K. Galbraith, LBJ School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin, Campus Mail Code: E2700, PO Box Y, Austin, TX 78713 〈〉. Data and computer code for replication available from Travis Hale 〈〉. We thank the members of the University of Texas Inequality Project and the LBJ School's Ph.D. Colloquium for comments. We extend thanks to the editor and referees of Social Science Quarterly, and special thanks to Andrew Gelman for his critique of our ideas and to him and his co-authors for sharing the details of their research in the area of income and voting.


Objective. This study examines the links among income inequality, voter turnout, and electoral choice at the state level in recent presidential elections.

Methods. We introduce two new state-level ecological data sets, estimated annual Gini coefficients of income inequality from 1969 to 2004 and a measure of income segregation across Census tracts within states in 1999. We test for associations among inequality, turnout, and party preference with cross-sectional, fixed-effects, and multilevel analyses.

Results. The cross-sectional effect of inequality on voter turnout and electoral choice is ambiguous. However, a fixed-effects analysis links higher income inequality to lower voter turnout and also to a stronger Democratic vote. Multilevel results indicate that higher levels of economic segregation likewise are associated with depressed turnout, after controlling for individual voter characteristics and for state-level income.