“What's the Matter With Kansas?” A Sociological Answer

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Abstract

Thomas Frank's book poses a question: Why do working people in Kansas vote for Republican candidates when supporting them is antithetical to their economic interests? This article analyzes the statistical evidence for such alleged deviant voting and finds support for his thesis that the working class does vote Republican. Also supported is his principal causal suggestion for this hypothesized “backlash,” the decline in average county population. But both variables lack a supporting theory. A “structural ecological” explanation for both facts is introduced that claims that the fear that whites experience as the white population shrinks causes the backlash reaction and the Republican vote that Frank describes. Statistical tests support the alternative explanation and illustrate the difference between Frank's ethnography-based arguments and the approach that most sociologists use.

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