Gene Expression

I post some data analysis over at my other weblog. For example, today I looked at the relationship between food stamp usage and unemployment. The Census makes a lot of county-level data available, though it’s often slapdash and disorganized. But using R I’ve constructed many data sets including most American counties. I don’t post here much because I concentrate more on science in this space, and the 500 pixel width means that integrating scatter plots into a post seamlessly is pretty much impossible.

But since readers of this weblog are much more liberal than over at GNXP Classic, I thought you’d be interested in what demographic variables predict voting for Barack Obama on the county-level. So the dependent variable is the 2008 results for Barack Obama by county.

The independent variables are:

% of non-Hispanic whites who identify German
% of non-Hispanic whites who identify as “American”
% black
% Median household income
% Median home value
% with a college degree
% on food stamps
% obese

Below are the coefficients with errors and p-values if not significant).

% of non-Hispanic whites who identify German 0.13 (0.032)
% of non-Hispanic whites who identify as “American” -0.89 (0.046)
% black 0.20 (0.022)
% Median household income ~ 0
% Median home value ~ 0
% with a college degree 0.33 (.037)
% on food stamps 0.008 (0.0006)
% obese -0.0012 (0.001, p-value 0.23)

r-squared = 0.52

I also calculated earlier the white vote for Obama using a combination of county-level data and state-level exit polls. So here are the coefficients for prediction of the white vote for Obama:

% of non-Hispanic whites who identify German 0.27 (0.026)
% of non-Hispanic whites who identify as “American” -0.68 (0.045)
% black -0.25 (0.023)
% Median household income ~ 0
% Median home value ~ 0
% with a college degree -0.089 (.036)
% of whites on food stamps 0.008 (0.0006)
% obese -0.0037 (0.0092)

r-squared = 0.56

“Americans” are generally those of British or Irish ancestry who live in the South. The correlation between counties in their voting for Obama and % with a college degree = 0.38, and -0.42 for % who are “American” in ancestry. The sort of model above tries to control for other variables which are correlated together. When you control the other variables college degree % becomes less powerful as an independent effect in relation to the % who are “American.” Median house value (at least in 2005-2007) was correlated with the Obama vote at 0.33, but its effect goes to nothing when you control for other factors.

Note: The r-squared represents the proportion of the variance in the dependent variable which can be explained by the independents.


  1. #1 david
    December 8, 2009

    Any idea why whites adopted the “American” identity in the South much more than other regions? The midwest and northeast have more big cities that still have ethnic white neighborhoods. Is this a result of more recent ethnic white immigration (eg early 20th century)? Or perhaps a result of more (and earlier) urbanization which strengthened ethnic identity — so a neighborhood gets locked-in as Polish, Italian, German, etc? Or was it a result of the fundamental identity in the South being racial (white or black) instead of ethnic?

  2. #2 Pohranicni Straze
    December 9, 2009

    In most of the South the ethnic communities were smaller and more spread out, leading to faster assimilation for most. Some communities (Germans in S. TX, Acadians in S. LA, etc.) were larger and more cohesive and still maintain their ethnic identity to a large degree. Combine that with a lack of decent record-keeping, name changes over the generations (i.e.- German “Huber” -> faux-French “Oubre” -> generic American “Hoover”) and a lot of people forgot their roots very quickly and became generic “Americans” (where “American” really means “white” in the South).

  3. #3 Ethan
    December 9, 2009

    Following the cataclysm they brought on themselves for being Carolinian or Alabaman or whatever, it’s not too surprising
    to me that they’d reconstruct themselves as generic
    Americans. I’m curious how many would pick Southerner
    by preference if offered that.

  4. #4 razib
    December 9, 2009

    i think the lack of recurrent waves of white immigration in the 19th century is the primary issue for southerners. in the north the “native stock,” i.e., white-anglo-saxon-protestants, had to be self-conscious as to their anglo-saxon origins because they were soon outnumbered by germans and irish, and assorted white ethnics. though new england’s english american population has deeper roots in this continent than most of the south’s population (which came during the 18th century during the scotch-irish migrations) it still thinks of itself as english. why? i suspect because the english origin is a bit contrast with the irish immigrants.

  5. #5 Mike
    December 9, 2009

    As a white person who was born in VA and considers myself “American,” I will explain my own person reasons for that. Based on my last name, my ancestors came to the US from the Netherlands in the late 1600′s and have been in VA ever since. If I go back to the last name of each of my grandparents, my percentage of ancestory would be 50% German, 25% welsh and 25% Dutch. But those families have also been in the US since the early 1700′s or late 1600′s. Therefore I am such a mix of European and potentially non European genetics, that it makes no sense to claim any one country as being my origin. I consider myself to be an American mix of european heritage.

    I feel no ties to any of those European countries. No traditions have carried forth from those countries. Most of my family traditions are ones developed in the US. For example, Christmas day involves eating Chesapeake Bay oysters and Thanksgiving involves eating Turkey.

    For those of you who do not understand why I would just consider myself American, what do you think I should consider myself?

  6. #6 Donna B.
    December 9, 2009

    I suggest the “American” identity prevalent in the South and Southwest is predominantly due to Crabgrass Jacksonianism — as defined by Walter Russell Mead here:

    (about a third of the way down in the article)