Opinion: Yes, there really is a coastal-elites bubble

Since the election, there have been all sorts of attempts to explain why the pundits’ predictions of an easy win for Hillary Clinton were so wrong. One of the explanations offered is that the opinion-makers in the mainstream media live in a bubble, detached from mainstream America. Some media types (including this Washington Post columnist) have suggested that news outlets should open more bureaus in middle America to combat this tendency toward coastal isolation. But just how acute is the problem of the coastal-elites bubble?

Supporters watch the election results during Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's election night rally in the Jacob Javits Center glass enclosed lobby in New York, Nov. 8, 2016. (AP Photo / Matt Rourke)

Supporters watch the election results during Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s election night rally in the Jacob Javits Center glass enclosed lobby in New York, Nov. 8, 2016. (AP Photo / Matt Rourke)

It turns out there’s a way to measure it. And the measurement tool was created by the man whose work on the stratification of American culture is a big help in understanding what happened in 2016.

I’m talking about the “bubble quiz” by Charles Murray, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute whose 2012 book “Coming Apart” remains a must-read. The quiz appears in the book, but after Murray appeared on PBS’ “NewsHour” last year, the broadcaster posted an adapted version of the quiz on its website (click here to take it). More than 142,000 people have taken the quiz since then, and last week Murray posted his conclusions about the (self-reported) results of quiz-takers.

murray-quiz-screen-grab

First, a bit about the quiz. The point is to determine how insulated one is from mainstream American culture. The lower one’s score, on a scale of 0-100, the thicker one’s bubble. The average score from the PBS version is a 45. (For the record, I got a 54, which means my bubble is thinner than average but still pretty much in the middle nationally. See picture at right.)

Lo and behold, the thickest bubbles in America, as measured by the ZIP codes of the quiz respondents, exist right where you might expect: In the Northeast and on the West Coast.

You can see the entire listing here, but I’ll summarize the results:

  • Of the 100 thickest ZIP code bubbles, 34 are in the New York City metro area.
  • Next comes the Bay Area: 29 are in Silicon Valley or San Francisco.
  • Boston is next with 15, followed by Los Angeles (8). If you’re keeping track, that’s 86 of the top 100 in those four cities, with 14 in the entire rest of the country.
  • The most bubblicious city not on a coast is Chicago (4), in what is suddenly an isolated blue outpost in the Midwest. Then comes Philadelphia (2).
  • Eight cities have one of the top 100 ZIP codes: Baltimore, Houston, Miami, Pittsburgh, Providence, San Diego, Seattle and Washington.

All 100 of these ZIP codes had average scores below 30 on Murray’s 0-100 scale. In other words, they’re well below that national average of 45. If you’re surprised our nation’s capital had only one entry on the list, so was Murray. However, he noted the average score among the Washington elite who took the quiz was still below average: 33.8. Washington is indeed in a bubble compared to the rest of America; it just isn’t as thick a bubble as we see in New York, Boston, the Bay Area and L.A.

How does all this get back to the disconnect we saw in 2016? Here’s Murray:

“The people living in zip codes in the top two (socioeconomic status) percentiles include almost all of those who run the nation’s culture, economy, and politics. And that’s where the bubble scores plunge.”

And, in a follow-up piece he posted Tuesday, taking on the criticism that small-town Americans live in just as much of a bubble as urban elites:

“(I)t’s not just any old bubble that I’m interested in, but the bubble in which too many members of the new upper class live. The reason their bubble poses problems whereas the bubble in an ethnically homogeneous small town does not is an asymmetry of power. The people in ethnically homogeneous small towns don’t affect the lives of the new upper class. The new upper class pervasively affects the lives of all Americans everywhere, through their effects on the nation’s politics, economy, and culture. What we saw in the last presidential election was in part a result of the members of the new upper class being isolated in their bubbles. It would be good for the nation if they got out more.”

Indeed, only five of the top 100 ZIP codes for Murray’s bubble quiz are in states that went for Trump: the two in Philly, and the one apiece in Houston, Miami and Pittsburgh. The rest are in places that went heavily for Clinton: New York (59 percent), California (62 percent), Massachusetts (61 percent), Illinois (55 percent), Maryland (61 percent), Rhode Island (55 percent), Washington (54 percent), District of Columbia (93 percent).

If those are the states where our media and cultural elites live, is it any wonder they were flabbergasted Donald Trump won? Their peers and neighbors were nothing like the people in the majority of states, which went for Trump. Yes, they had opinion polls to back up their belief of a Clinton win, but their apparent inability even to conceive of a Trump win was born of more than those polls. Perhaps that’s why those of us living in less insulated areas, looking at the same polls, saw reason to believe Clinton was ahead but Trump was well within statistical striking distance.

But even more to the point, that bubble wasn’t just about not being able to foresee the election results. It was about being totally detached from the reasons voters opted for Trump. If you live in a world where everyone is prospering, cheering on rapid social changes, and benefiting (or at least not suffering) from the ever-greater power Washington, D.C., wields over the rest of us, you probably had a much harder time recognizing that people were ready to roll the dice on the changes Trump might bring.

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91 comments
Johns Creek Native
Johns Creek Native

I am so sick of being told that we all need to understand and appreciate poorly educated white people who live in small towns and watch daytime TV because that is "real America™"

The fact is that most Americans live in cities. Most Americans don't smoke cigarettes or eat at Denny's. Most Americans voted for Hillary Clinton.

Real America is diverse and urban.

And it is shocking that the Republican Party now actively disdains anyone with an education or any interests beyond the most middle brow culture.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

Oh the irony. So the folks who live in middle america and are sick of elitist, upper class, arrogant, condescending coastal city dwellers have elected the man who fits that description and would score 0 on this quiz. 


I have no problem in "draining the swamp", but Trump is not the man to do it. The reason so many didn't predict Trump winning is they underestimated the gullibility of middle america. They have been con like all the folks who bought my pillow.


http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/nation-now/2017/01/04/pillowgate-bbb-revokes-mypillow-accreditation/96145828/

MiltonD
MiltonD

@McGarnagle : Your party completely underestimated how unlikable your candidate was. 

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

@DerekGator @McGarnagle  They'll never acknowledge it; the story line will always be Russian hackers, etc.

Oh, and it didn't help that she referred to the American electorate as "deplorables".

bu22
bu22

@stogiefogey @DerekGator @McGarnagle And, as a point of relevance to this article, her bragging that she would put a lot of coal miners out of work.  Retraining, right.  Donald Trump was the only one out of the 22 candidates who got it.  I grew up in some blue collar towns, but didn't get it.  Not until he started getting big vote totals.  Then it made sense to me.  The coastal elites never got it.  Most still don't.

bendedknee
bendedknee

Hysterical that Kyle and Cons are delusional and think they can appeal to the working class stiffs  who are outside the" bubble."  Tell me what the Stupid Party has done for the working class over the last eight years?

Who saved the auto industry and got lenders to start lending to Mainstreet and restart the  real estate industry?

Which party opposed funding hundreds of thousands of jobs through public service, Ex-IM bank  funding and the  Highway Trust Fund???????????????????????????????  


Yeah Cons will pretend they are outside the bubble and the dumb suckers in Middle America are in for  a  rude awakening.

Stupid Party showed how concerned they were about middle America yesterday  by making the abolishing of Ethics Oversight the top priority. Hilarious!

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@lvg All of which was financed with debt, which the working class will be expected to repay.  They wised up!

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@lvg  The stupid party that has been in charge of the executive branch for the last 8 years has clobbered the working class by burdening the small business sector their largest employer with ObamaCare and onerous overregulation. Why do you think the Russell 2000 has been climbing through the roof since November 8th?

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@SGTGrit @lvg


Oh the irony. In a post about bubbles, the stock market bubble thats building up is bound to pop down the road. What we want to see is steady growth. Rapid rise is a cause for concern like the tech and housing bubbles. 

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

Well, well, well....we continue to hear the popular vote meme from the disheartened liberal Democrats. Forget about it Dem's you lost it's over. The founding fathers had the foresight to design an electoral system that maintained the integrity of the United States of America not the United States of New York, New Jersey, Illinois, California, Oregon and Washington State.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@breckenridge @SGTGrit  So, you don't think they could see the inevitable growth of states? Your ignorance belongs to you if your answer is no.

breckenridge
breckenridge

@SGTGrit 

No, they would not have designed a system that maintained the integrity of the individual states of Illinois, California, Oregon and Washington. There were 13 colonies at the time the Constitution was written, and none of the above were among them.

You should brush up on American history. No, on second thought, US History 101 would be more fitting.

Caius
Caius

@SGTGrit Well you actually hear it from some of us conservatives. We Georgians have 19 electoral votes, one vote for every 510K residents.  Our friends in Wyoming have one vote for every 188K residents.

Wyoming residents love it and strangely Georgia residents love it. Always have.


Some conservatives have been trying to get this changed for decades (to my personal knowledge and participation). First the Democrats stopped us and now the Republicans are stopping us. Over the decades it has been a bi-partisan issue with support changing as election trends change.


Who's on first?


breckenridge
breckenridge

@Caius @SGTGrit 

Nor was the electoral college something the founding fathers cooked up.  Originally, the president was elected by members of the US Senate.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@Caius @SGTGrit  The blue wall and the Dem strategy of building voting blocks within large urban cities have been a topic of discussion for quite sometime. Hardly, with bi-partisan support for its success. National presidential elections determined by popular vote would facilitate that Dem strategy.

bendedknee
bendedknee

@SGTGrit Not disheartened  here. Laughing hysterically over Cons fumbling the  football now that they have the ball and limited defensive players on the other side.

Rockgod
Rockgod

@SGTGrit For such a smart guy, your punctuation is atrocious.  You had: Forget about it dems you lost it's over.  That sentence should be punctuated like this:  Forget about it, Dems, you lost.  It's over.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

At the Philadelphia convention, the visionary Pennsylvanian James Wilson proposed direct national election of the president. But the savvy Virginian James Madison responded that such a system would prove unacceptable to the South: “The right of suffrage was much more diffusive [i.e., extensive] in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes.” In other words, in a direct election system, the North would outnumber the South, whose many slaves (more than half a million in all) of course could not vote. But the Electoral College—a prototype of which Madison proposed in this same speech—instead let each southern state count its slaves, albeit with a two-fifths discount, in computing its share of the overall count.


http://time.com/4558510/electoral-college-history-slavery/

breckenridge
breckenridge

@Hedley_Lammar 

I read a biography of the unheralded James Wilson a few years back.  He was a really sharp guy, and quite a contributor to the cause, as well as a member of the 1st Supreme Court.


Wilson grew up poor, in Scotland. He was sent to college to study and become a clergyman. But, when his father died, he abandoned that plan; part of it was exposure to Enlightenment thought.  Like Jefferson, and Madison, and a slew of other founding fathers, his continuing education led him to the conclusion that rational thought and the rights of man far superseded the supernatural.


Those who insist that this country is built on Christian values and mores are but ignorant fools. Enlightenment principles are the foundation of this nation.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

 The democrats have won the popular vote in 6 of the last 7 presidential elections.


That point cannot be stressed enough. 


Sadly we live in a system where a vote in Wyoming counts three times what a vote in California counts


Seem fair to anybody ?

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@Hedley_Lammar FWIW Trump won the popular vote by 1.5 million if you delete CA from the process and since they are so different from the rest of the USA they want to secede, I think it is fair to look at that figure.  Hillary ran up the score in CA, pretty much a Democrat dominated state, where the Senate campaign was between two Democrats with no Republican on the ballot.

MiltonD
MiltonD

@Hedley_Lammar It is completely fair if those were the rules going into the game.


I agree in principle but do we really want to be the United States of California?  CA is not even contested and the Democrat starts with 20% of the electoral votes to win the election before a vote has been cast.  Yes, you can reallocate the electoral votes and the Democrat will start out with over 25% of the electoral votes to win the election.  I lived in CA for 4 years, most of those people are wacky, we really do not want them to have any more influence over our country than they already do. 

Thunder D
Thunder D

I scored a 49. At the age of 5, I lived in a trailer in rural Ohio in a single-parent home. I plowed my first field at age 7. While I might now be bilingual and have an MBA, that is not my background. I have voted in 7 presidential elections and voted for the democrat exactly twice. A yellow dog democrat, I am not.  


I still don't understand why its the elites in the bubble. The democrats have won the popular vote in 6 of the last 7 presidential elections. People who live in cities are still people. 

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

OK, I'm a Manager in a Fortune 500 Company with an MBA living in a major metropolitan area suburb and I scored a 62. A lot of that no doubt has to do with age and breadth of life experience; this country is a lot different now than when I was growing up in the 50's and 60's.

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

I got a 60.  I guess I'm not a coastal elite.  


I get why (white) people voted for Trump, but to me it was unAmerican.  Black people are chastised as lazy and unmotivated for asking for jobs and help and are told to pull yourself up by the bootstraps.  I thought those were American values.  I guess they really weren't.  


Those Coastal elites are the winners.  They have adapted to the new America and technology age better than everyone else.  Most of them sacrificed a lot and came from rural areas for a better life.   Those Coastal elites generally are the bootstrappers who end up sending their tax dollars to red states.  Of course they dont understand how anyone could vote for Trump.   He's a bankruptcy declaring, hate speech giving clown.

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

I never demonized you are anyone else. my post said nothing about people hating others. YOU said that. I replied to YOU. If you don't want to address a topic, YOU shouldn't reference it.

As for the actual discussion, you know I am right, so you can't answer it. You have an MBA. You know that a trade war will raise prices on you. You know you aren't really getting a tax cut because I know you have read the plan. There is no reason for you, a successful person, to ever vote for Trump. You know you will likely be financially worse off and you know his foreign policy won't work.

So why did you vote for him. Honestly, I want to know, because there is no financial or foreign policy reason to do so.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

@JFMcNamara unAmerican??? Your explanation has NO relationship to WHY I voted for Trump, or many other people I speak with.


News flash: Those Coastal elites are not necessarily winners. [See my post above]. I've pulled myself up by the bootstraps, provided for my own education, established and sustained a career through several business cycles and merger/layoffs, married and stayed married for over 35 years, raised a family of productive young adults, and thankful to God Almighty for every blessing in life along the way. No, I don't cede the title of "winner" to anybody on either coast, and I strongly believe there are millions of other self-assessed "winners" all over the Red-State map, many of whom voted for Trump (obviously).


And, I don't hate anybody.

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

@DawgDadII @JFMcNamara I have done the same things, and I live in a red state as well.  


So you are happy about all these people complaining about jobs and not doing anything about it themselves?   You struggled and made a better life for yourself, why do they need it on a silver platter?


These same Republican voters complain about welfare, but they want it as bad as anyone.  They want someone to give them a job that might not be needed or some handouts so they can get more stuff.


If you really arent racist and dont hate anyone, why on Earth would you ever vote for Trump?  You are a Coastal elite.  They are going to raise your taxes by a large margin.  If you look at the plan, you wont really get a tax cut, but you will get higher prices on everything you buy from a trade war.  They are taking from you and giving to them.  That isnt unAmerican?

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

@JFMcNamara @DawgDadII I am economically, socially, politically, and geographically NOT a coastal elite and never have been. Not even conceptually, not even close.


There is too much in your post to respond to directly. I don't expect to agree with you politically (and that's OK, this is America and that is why we are here on this blog), and I'm not out to indoctrinate you or sell you lies and half-truths or talking points. I would suggest you demonstrate insufficient appreciation for the meanings of "racist" and "hate", and that it's not a real good reflection on yourself to go around demonizing people, because you don't know what is in their hearts and minds. 


On that count, is Trump perfect? No, he's a politician (now).

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

@DawgDadII @JFMcNamara ...and to boot, you are a Coastal elite.  


" I'm a Manager in a Fortune 500 Company with an MBA living in a major metropolitan area suburb"


You live in a Coastal elite suburb earning more than $100,000.  You are economically , geographically and socially a coastal elite.  If I had to guess, you live in a swim/tennis community, play golf and watch you kids or grandkids play soccer on the weekends.  I know  because we are basically the same person. I have an MBA, work at a fortune 500 company and live in an Atlanta Suburb.  I even made about the same score on that quiz. 


You may watch NASCAR and have poor friends, but you are nothing like them.  You have way more in common than me that any rural person.

bu22
bu22

@JFMcNamara These trade deals may work "net."  But the point is that means there are winners and losers.  DC is constantly making the coastal elites the winners and the heartland blue collar worker the loser.  That is one thing politicians are consistent about.  There needs to be more balance.

Uncle-Billy
Uncle-Billy

There are several problems here:

1. Charles Murray is taken as the font of wisdom on the subject. This is the same person who wrote "The Bell Curve" purporting to show that black people are generally inherently less intelligent than white people based on IQ test scores which, it is assumed, measure "intelligence" which is itself ambiguous, e.g. was Einstein more intelligent than Shakespeare.

2. Mainstream American is assumed to be the white working class while there is a large black working class, a large Hispanic working class and even a Muslim working class who apparently do not count.

3. I took the quiz off PBS and scored a 74 which makes my bubble pretty thin. One of the questions was whether what was the zip code when I was born. I was born in 1940 in Loganville, GA and there were no zip codes in those days. It also asked if I had ever lived in a neighborhood where most people had no college degree. In Loganville, in those days my father was one of only a few (mostly school teachers) who had a college degree (BS in Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Tech, 1933.--The quiz also asked if I had friends who are evangelicals. People claiming to be evangelical are very thick here including most of the black people I know (although black evangelicals are, unsurprisingly somewhat different from the white variety).

Consequently, the word elite (from the French elire "to be elected") is sufficiently elastic that it can be used to refer to whatever group the speaker/writer finds convenient. So it can be used as an approbation or a derogation as the writer/speaker finds most convenient to her/his purpose.

Finally, is Kyle Wingfield among the elite? Is Charles Murray?

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Got a 45 which makes me average.

Though above average when it comes to understanding people and why they behave as they do, there's nothing  wrong with being average.

There's plenty wrong with those who see themselves as ABOVE average whether they actually are or not.

Newton's third law of motion can be seen in human behavior as well as objects. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

While we are on the record talking about bubbles


Please remind yourself that Hillary did get more votes. Millions more.


Those people werent all Coastal Elites sipping lattes. Democrats picked up seats in the House and Senate. If the GOP governs as if it has some sort of mandate it will be a huge mistake.


In 4 years ( perhaps sooner ) this national nightmare and embarrassment will be over.

Ychromosome
Ychromosome

Maybe there is an "elites bubble" but what do you call the group of people who believe that Obama was a Muslim, Michelle Obama is secretly a man, that a pizzeria was a den of pedophilia, that Saddam was responsible for 9/11 and that gay marriage threatens their marriage? What do you call the people who said Obama would cause $10 per gallon gasoline and the collapse of the stock market and what do you call the people who not only believed the lies, but continue to believe the same liars? Is there a name for the group of people who fault Obama for the deficit spending required to lift the country out of the Bush era depression and pretend that unemployment has not been drastically cut? Does the group that feels that there is a war on Christmas and whites face real discrimination, all while they arm themselves because they believe they will need to overthrow the government belong to any bubble? 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Ychromosome but what do you call the group of people who believe that Obama was a Muslim, Michelle Obama is secretly a man, that a pizzeria was a den of pedophilia, that Saddam was responsible for 9/11 and that gay marriage threatens their marriage?


A: Mainstream Republicans. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/28/us/lost-cause-trump/

For those interested in the real reason Trump won.

But Trump's victory may mark the resurgence of the Old South in another more sinister way: The return of "racial amnesia."That's what some historians are saying as they watch a familiar storyline emerge. Trump's triumph is now being roundly described as a revolt by white working-class voters; racism, sexism and religious bigotry had little, if anything, to do with it.

People making this argument are following a script first honed by another group of Americans who made history disappear. After the Civil War, "Lost Cause" propagandists from the Confederacy argued the war wasn't fought over slavery -- it was a constitutional clash over state's rights, they said; hatred toward blacks had nothing to do with it.

It was an audacious historical cover-up -- to convince millions of Americans that what they'd just seen and heard hadn't really happened. It worked then, and some historians say it could work again with Trump.

This is playing out again.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

 cheering on rapid social changes


These are known as things like civil rights, marriage equality. 


Discriminating against people cant be shut down fast enough no.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@Hedley_Lammar

When I think of the run up in Goldman Sachs' stock price post-election, I can't help but chuckle at the irony.  I'd bet that around 80%+ of Goldman partners and other money makers (ie, excluding administrative and similar staff) voted for Hils but got a major boost in their wealth because of the market's irrational response to Trump. And, as you said, the people who are likely to be most adversely affected by our new and wonderful conservative government are the same people who voted it into power.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder


I can't believe these liberals, over the last several decades the government they ran has decimated agriculture, decimated manufacturing, decimated energy production and now they whine about rural people needing assistance?


+


Clueless.


=


The kind of ironic stupidity you just can't make up. 


Clearly, this is a guy who knows nothing - not a damn thing, it seems - about how technology has changed agricultural and manufacturing production processes, or how America is producing more fossil-fuel based energy than at any point in its history.


It is this kind of epic, monumental stupidity and gullibility, folks, that enabled a mendacious, dishonorable, lying, thieving, un-Christian, totally unqualified con artist to become the proverbial leader of the soon-to-be not free world.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

Nothing exactly new, newsworthy or insightful here, Kyle, to the extent that you could have drawn the exact same 'conclusion' immediately following the election just by looking at the geographic distribution of votes between red and blue across America (indeed, some people did).

One way of looking at it is to say that 'coastal elites live in a bubble.' Another way of looking at it is to say that we live in in increasingly polarized and divided world where like-minded people are clustering together, and that the world inhabited by rural red staters and the working class looks nothing like the world inhabited by educated, professional, forward thinking urbanites.

But make no mistake - the election of Don Trump was a black swan event that was the product of numerous unique circumstances and variables which conspired to give America what will likely be its worst ever chief executive.

bu22
bu22

@Eye wonder The liberals are clustering in bubbles.  The rest are pretty spread out.