Blogs by MidAmerica Nazarene University staff and faculty.
How My Intro to Sociology Class Could Have Predicted the Election
This 2012 election year I had no prediction for the presidential race. “It’s too close to call,” I would say. But others, like Nate Silver, were able to use statistics to make accurate predictions. I wondered-- why couldn’t sociology help me predict this election?
It turns out it could. With sociology, and some very simple logic, it turns out that sociological ideas could have easily predicted the election. I know, I know. Hindsight is 20/20. But I’m not talking complex social theories. It turns out, that at this point in the semester, my introductory course students had all the sociology information they needed to predict the election-- if they knew what to look for.
So, here are the simple steps to predicting the election, using basic sociology:
1. Presidents are elected by an electoral college, where electoral college votes are done by state, and each state gets a number of votes based on the population of that state.
2. So, thinking sociologically, what factors do sociologists study related to population? There are several, but I started looking at Urbanization, and Population Density. It seemed logical that states with a higher population density or a higher number of people living in urban areas would be likely to be the most populated, and thus have more electoral votes. Winning these would get you to the required number of votes faster.
3. The next question is: Which candidate/party will attract the vote of the Urbanized? Who lives in urbanized areas, and what is life like there? Urban areas are much more likely to be populated by a diverse population-- more ethnic minorities. In addition, one of the things we study in the Intro Sociology course is whether or not Urban populations or rural populations are more likely to share the same values and ways of thinking. We study how urban areas are a Gesellschaft type of society-- (people tend to be strangers, with little agreement on norms and values, and much more deviance in action and opinion) (Stark, 2007). So which candidate/party is likely to be aligned with ethnic minorities, and diverse ways of thinking (can we say “liberal”?), and more tolerant of deviance? My logic says, that would be Obama/Democrats. And right there, you have enough to predict the election.
But does this pan out? If I use sociology to reason that, “It is likely that more urbanized areas are likely to vote Democrat,” and “the candidate who wins the most urbanized states wins the most electoral votes,” does the urbanization data support the results of an Obama victory?
It turns out that the data does support it. In fact, of the 25 most urbanized states, 21 of them were won by Obama. Just looking at Population Density, ALL of the top 15 most densely populated states were won by Obama. I have included a data table that my Intro to Sociology class uses below, so you can see the results. By winning 20 of the top 23 most urbanized states, Obama had enough electoral votes to win the election.
I share all of this to say that this does not bode well for the future of the Republican party. The conservative values of rural America are not enough to attract the strategic states to win an election. You have to appeal to urban voters. Voters who live in dense areas, where they simply run into more people (a sociological principle called “dynamic density”), and thus run into more people who are different from each other. This leads to pluralism-- and tolerance for multiple points of view-- characteristic of a diverse population. In the city, not everyone looks like me, or thinks like me. In rural areas, I may never encounter someone from another race, and we all may share the same way of thinking, and similar religious values (what sociologists call “mechanical solidarity”). But in the city, liberal political points of view are more likely to rule, given the pluralistic nature of their environment. Given this information, and the fact that the world is becoming increasingly urbanized, it is likely that the Republican party will win a presidential election in the foreseeable future? Not unless they start connecting with urban voters. It may be time for the Republicans to drop the cowboy hat and country music in favor of Hip Hop and the do-rag-- if they want to hold executive power.
% URBAN--PERCENT WHO RESIDE IN AN URBAN AREA
1 CALIFORNIA 92.6
2 NEW JERSEY 89.4
3 HAWAII 89.0
4 NEVADA 88.3
5 ARIZONA 87.5*
6 UTAH 87.0*
7 RHODE ISLAND 86.0
8 FLORIDA 84.8
9 ILLINOIS 84.6
10 NEW YORK 84.3
11 MASSACHUSETTS 84.3
12 COLORADO 82.4
13 MARYLAND 81.3
14 TEXAS 80.3*
15 CONNECTICUT 79.1
16 WASHINGTON 76.4
17 OHIO 74.1
18 DELAWARE 73.2
19 NEW MEXICO 72.9
20 MICHIGAN 70.5
21 OREGON 70.5
22 MINNESOTA 69.8
23 VIRGINIA 69.4
24 KANSAS 69.1*
25 PENNSYLVANIA 68.9
* Went to Romney, all others went to Obama.
Stark, R. 2007. Sociology. 10th ed. Thomson Wadsworth.