Still, this doesn’t mean voters are choosing red or blue frivolously. Indeed, voters are picking their parties based on differing approaches to the most fundamentally important human activity: having babies. The white people in Republican-voting regions consistently have more children than the white people in Democratic-voting regions. The more kids whites have, the more pro-Bush they get.
I’ll focus primarily on Caucasians, who overall voted for Bush 58-41, in part because they are doing most of the arguing over the meaning of the red-blue division. The reasons blacks vote Democratic are obvious, and other racial blocs are smaller. Whites remain the 800-pound gorilla of ethnic electoral groups, accounting for over three out of every four votes.
The single most useful and understandable birthrate measure is the “total fertility rate.” This estimates, based on recent births, how many children the average woman currently in her childbearing years will have. The National Center for Health Statistics reported that in 2002 the average white woman was giving birth at a pace consistent with having 1.83 babies during her lifetime, or 13 percent below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman. This below-replacement level has not changed dramatically in three decades.
States, however, differ significantly in white fertility. The most fecund whites are in heavily Mormon Utah, which, not coincidentally, was the only state where Bush received over 70 percent. White women average 2.45 babies in Utah compared to merely 1.11 babies in Washington, D.C., where Bush earned but 9 percent. The three New England states where Bush won less than 40 percent-Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island-are three of the four states with the lowest white birthrates, with little Rhode Island dipping below 1.5 babies per woman.
Bush carried the 19 states with the highest white fertility (just as he did in 2000), and 25 out of the top 26, with highly unionized Michigan being the one blue exception to the rule. (The least prolific red states are West Virginia, North Dakota, and Florida.)
In sharp contrast, Kerry won the 16 states at the bottom of the list, with the Democrats’ anchor states of California (1.65) and New York (1.72) having quite infertile whites.
Among the 50 states plus Washington, D.C., white total fertility correlates at a remarkably strong 0.86 level with Bush’s percentage of the 2004 vote. (In 2000, the correlation was 0.85.) In the social sciences, a correlation of 0.2 is considered “low,” 0.4 “medium,” and 0.6 “high.”