Why is it that the poorest states in America are red states? It seems the poorer the state, the more Republican it is. The Census Bureau’s 2011 Statistical Abstract shows the GOP finds their strongest support in places where poverty and median household income are the worst. Case in point: Mississippi ranks dead last economically, with the lowest per capita income in the country, yet according to Gallup, Mississippi is the most conservative state in the union. It ranks first in the number of people living below the poverty line: 21.9 percent of Mississippi residents live below the poverty level. Dominated by conservative politicians, Mississippi has the lowest tax burden in the nation but ranks fourth in per capita federal aid. Mississippi is also a leader of the GOP effort to gut Medicaid but ranks first in the percentage of its Medicaid program that is funded by federal matching funds.
In a state that wants to repeal “Obamacare,” Mississippi leads the nation in a number of health care problems. It has the highest rate of heart disease and the second highest rate of diabetes in the country. Mississippi’s cardiovascular disease mortality rate is the highest in the nation. Some counties in Mississippi rank among third world countries when it comes to life expectancy-they have the shortest life expectancies in the nation and many Mississippi residents suffer from a lack of health care access (some counties don’t even have hospitals). It is ironic that the states suing to prevent the implementation of the Affordable Care Act are the ones whose residents need it most. Still, Republicans poll best in places where healthcare is worst.
When it comes to education, adults in Mississippi have the highest rate of low literacy in the nation. On the National Assessment of Adult Literacy conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, 30 percent of adults scored “Level 1” (less than fifth-grade reading and comprehension skills). In 2011, only 21 percent of Mississippi eighth graders scored proficient in reading and 19 percent scored at least proficient in math.
Last November, social conservatives tried pushing the “Personhood” initiative, which defined a fertilized egg as a human being, banning abortion and most birth control. Despite Mississippi’s focus inside the womb, there seems little concern about what happens to its residents outside of it. They have dismal rankings in out-of-wedlock births, births to teen mothers and unmarried women. For a state that votes for family values, its divorce rate is among Americas highest and it is the deadliest gun state in the nation.
Conservatism doesn’t seem to be translating into positive results for the Hospitality State, so why do they continue to vote GOP? In the lead up to the March 13 GOP primary, I visited Mississippi to find out why it is a Republican stronghold today. We are going to let the voters of one of the most economically and educationally deprived areas of the nation tell you why they vote Republican.
Here’s one answer.