Who Has Passports... And Who Doesn't? And For Which Party Do They Vote?
It was hardly great literature but former Florida Congressman Robert Wexler's autobiography, Fire-Breathing Liberal, made some points that stuck with me. One was about passports, congressional passports, something we covered here before a couple of times, like in this brief mention in 2009 as I was getting ready for a trip to Albania:
There aren't many members of Congress who have traveled extensively out of the country. In his delightful book, Fire-Breathing Liberal, Rep. Robert Wexler marvels at how many of his Republican colleagues seem to think not possessing a passport is a badge of honor! Last weekend I spent some time with Rep. Barbara Lee who is no longer surprised when she talks with Republicans who haven't been-- and don't want to be-- outside of the U.S. The opposite extreme would be one member who certainly qualifies for the Century Club, Rep. Alan Grayson. When I told him I was going to Mali he was able to give me some travel tips for remote, seldom visited villages like Bandiagara and Sanga, and a few weeks ago he told me about some odd customs I can expect to experience in Albania.
And again in 2010 as NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg railed against provincial GOP isolationists:
Visiting China this week, Bloomberg, NYC's globalist, multinational mayor, growled about congressional attempts to prevent China from illegally dumping solar panels into the American market with the express purpose of driving U.S. firms out of business. “If you look at the U.S., you look at who we’re electing to Congress, to the Senate-- they can’t read,” he said. “I’ll bet you a bunch of these people don’t have passports. We’re about to start a trade war with China if we’re not careful here,” he warned, “only because nobody knows where China is. Nobody knows what China is.” Former Rep. Robert Wexler, then a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, made the same observation in his book, Fire Breathing Liberal, about Know Nothing members of Congress, including members of his committee, for whom not having a passport-- or even eating "foreign" food-- was a badge of honor. Wexler endorsed Charlie Crist for the open Florida Senate seat and Crist lost to one of the bunch of Know Nothings Bloomberg was whining about, Marco Rubio, who's waltzing into the Senate-- and, many fear, the national stage-- after a 49% win, Crist and Kendrick Meek splitting the non-teabaggy vote.
A tip from Paul Krugman last week, America's Superiority Complex, had me thinking about Wexler again as I read a post by Richard Florida, America's Great Passport Divide. You'll notice on the map above that, generally speaking, the states with the smallest percentage of passport holders-- i.e., states with people who don't travel outside the country-- are also the states that elect Republicans that most regularly. Mississippi is the worst, closely followed by West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama and Arkansas.
"It’s a fun map," writes Florida. "With the exception of Sarah Palin’s home state, it reinforces the “differences” we expect to find between the states where more worldly, well-travelled people live versus those where the folks Palin likes to call “real Americans” preponderate. Mostly to entertain myself, I decided to look at how this passport metric correlates with a variety of other political, cultural, economic, and demographic measures. What surprised me is how closely it lines up with the other great cleavages in America today." And, as he says, the statistical correlations are striking across a range of indices.
People in richer states tend to hold passports and people in poorer states tend to not. Same for educated people versus ignorant people. The kinds of folks who elect Haley Barbour, Mitch McConnell, Jim DeMint, Jeff Sessions, David Vitter don't hold college degrees-- or passports. They watch Glenn Beck instead and listen to Hate Talk Radio.
States with higher percentages of passport holders are also more diverse. There is a considerable correlation between passports and the share of immigrants or foreign-born population (.63) and also gays and lesbians (.54). The more passport holders a state has, the more diverse its population tends to be. And yes, these correlations hold when we control for income.
What about politics? How does passport holding line up against America’s Red state-Blue state divide? Pretty darn well, actually. There is a considerable positive correlation between passports and Obama voters (.59) and a significant negative one (-.61) for McCain voters. It appears that more liberally-oriented states are more globally oriented as well, or at least their citizens like to travel abroad. Again, the correlations hold when we control for income, though they are a bit weaker than the others.
...And finally, states with more passport holders are also happier. There is a significant correlation (.55) between happiness (measured via Gallup surveys) and a state’s percentage of passport holders. Yet again, that correlation holds when we control for income.
There are stark cultural differences between places where international travel is common and those where it’s not, and we can see them playing out in the cultural and political strife that has been riving the country over the past decades. Think of John Kerry, who was accused of looking and sounding “French” and George W. Bush, who’d hardly been overseas before he became president, or for that matter Barack Obama, with his multi-cultural global upbringing, and Sarah Palin, who had to obtain a passport when she traveled to Kuwait in 2007. The trends in passport use reflect America’s starkly bifurcated system of infrastructure. One set of places has great universities and easy access to international airports; another an infrastructure that is much further off the beaten track of the global circulation of capital, talent, and ideas.
Passport holding provides a window into America’s big sort-- in fact it serves as a robust indicator for all the other things that so divide us.
I was horrified to read in Wexler's book about how Republican yahoos bragged about having never traveled abroad. In truth, they represent their constituents' prejudices and fears very well. And circling back to Krugman, it helps explain easily manipulated antipathy, for example, for "socialized medicine," especially of the Canadian variety, an antipathy that is ingrained all over the solid South.
[Y]ou can see how bad single-payer insurance is by the fact that Americans don’t have to wait as long as Canadians for hip replacements, which in Canada are paid for by the government, while in America they’re mainly paid for by … Medicare.
But what struck me about the whole piece was the assumption that modern medicine in general is something only we lucky free-market Americans have, while in Europe they’re still using leeches or something. In other words, it’s part of the superiority complex you often encounter in U.S. politics; people just know that we’re the best, and won’t believe you when you tell them that actually they have the Internet, cell phones, and antibiotics in Europe too.