Open Access
February 2014 How Bayesian Analysis Cracked the Red-State, Blue-State Problem
Andrew Gelman
Statist. Sci. 29(1): 26-35 (February 2014). DOI: 10.1214/13-STS458


In the United States as in other countries, political and economic divisions cut along geographic and demographic lines. Richer people are more likely to vote for Republican candidates while poorer voters lean Democratic; this is consistent with the positions of the two parties on economic issues. At the same time, richer states on the coasts are bastions of the Democrats, while most of the generally lower-income areas in the middle of the country strongly support Republicans. During a research project lasting several years, we reconciled these patterns by fitting a series of multilevel models to perform inference on geographic and demographic subsets of the population. We were using national survey data with relatively small samples in some states, ethnic groups and income categories; this motivated the use of Bayesian inference to partially pool between fitted models and local data. Previous, non-Bayesian analyses of income and voting had failed to connect individual and state-level patterns. Now that our analysis has been done, we believe it could be replicated using non-Bayesian methods, but Bayesian inference helped us crack the problem by directly handling the uncertainty that is inherent in working with sparse data.


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Andrew Gelman. "How Bayesian Analysis Cracked the Red-State, Blue-State Problem." Statist. Sci. 29 (1) 26 - 35, February 2014.


Published: February 2014
First available in Project Euclid: 9 May 2014

zbMATH: 1332.62426
MathSciNet: MR3201843
Digital Object Identifier: 10.1214/13-STS458

Keywords: Multilevel regression and poststratification (MRP) , political science , sample surveys , sparse data , voting

Rights: Copyright © 2014 Institute of Mathematical Statistics

Vol.29 • No. 1 • February 2014
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