Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Tue Aug 11th 2009 at 1:00pm UTC

This is Your Candidate on Drugs

Ryan Grim’s new book, This is Your Country on Drugs, has revived interest in drug use and drug policy. Around the time it hit the streets, this map of drug use by state (via Map Scroll) started circulating around the Internet.

As it turns out, the map is based on detailed data from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health on the use of various types of “illegal drugs” by state.

So, with this treasure trove of data in hand, and with the help of two colleagues, the Swedish regional economist, Charlotta Mellander, and Cambridge University personality psychologist, Jason Rentfrow, we decided to take a look at the relationship between drug use and various political, economic, and psychological characteristics of states.

There’s lots and lots of research that examines the effects of factors like income, poverty, and race on the propensity to use drugs. But our team has been focusing on the role of psycho-social as well as economic factors on state and regional outcomes. A pioneering study by Rentfrow, Sam Gosling, and Jeff Porter identified the effects of personality factors on state-level economic and social outcomes. So we wanted to extend this line of research to see if and how these various economic, demographic, and personality factors might be related to drug use. We are knee-deep in a more extensive research project, but our preliminary results looked so interesting we thought we would report them and encourage feedback.

Some of the results reinforce the conventional wisdom, but others are surprising – at least for us.

Let’s start with an indicator of politics that’s sure to spark some interest – whether a state voted for Obama or McCain in 2008.

When it comes to the use of illegal drugs overall, there’s no real correlation. But that changes when we look at marijuana and cocaine. Both are significantly and positively related to with Obama states. The converse is true of McCain states, where the correlations are negative. Let me reiterate that these are provisional results which point to general relationships – or should I say associations – which could have many causes.

Conservative commentators might take this as evidence of the anything-goes, libertine lifestyles of “latte liberals” and of the need to return to more traditional, “all-American,” working class values. But that misses the bigger point. There are real differences in the economic and social environments of Obama and McCain states, as John Judis and Ruy Ruy Teixeira’s Emerging Democratic Majority, and Andrew Gelman and his collaborator’s Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State, along with other studies have shown – particularly in their levels of development, economic and occupational structure, and, I would add, in their psycho-social environments as well.

Tomorrow, we’ll start to dig a little deeper into economic correlates of drug use. And, later this week, I’ll look at the relationships between drug use and certain kinds of occupations, and also to the personality types of states.

Correlation coefficient: .42**

Correlation coefficient: -.44**

Correlation coefficient: .37**

Correlation coefficient: -.36**

Note:  * indicates statistical significance at the .05 level; ** indicates significance at the .01 level.

10 Responses to “This is Your Candidate on Drugs”

  1. Abby Says:

    just read an absolutely fascinating book you might like about the history of drugs in America (with lots of music history interspersed), Martin Torgoff’s “Can’t Find My Way Home”.

  2. Buzzcut Says:

    Nice job.

    Can you do this at the county level? As a big “Entourage” fan, it seems like the smog in LA is all from pot smoke. ;)

    So are there any drugs positively correlated to McCain states?

    Is the cocaine is the correlation including crack cocaine?

  3. Michael Wells Says:

    Wow. I’d have my doubts about this, but the National Survey has been around for years and is highly regarded. Maybe some people states are more likely to be open about drug use?

    But Texas, Florida and New Jersey that much lower than Montana and Colorado? Don’t fit my preconceptions. Or the stark differences in the bordering states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming? Do people leave their stashes at the state line?

    The election patterns is interesting, if the drug data can be believed. The data is from 2006-07 when nobody was predicting new Mexico, Florida, North Carolina, Indiana to go Democratic. Are potheads a leading indicator?

  4. MrNorml Says:

    I think its another proxy for tolerance. Places with tolerant attitudes toward recreational drug use are likely to be tolerant to many alternative lifestyle choices.

    I would bet similiar relatioships will come about with regard to per capita income, economic output, and education levels.

    The funny thing about marijuana in particular is that every developed place where it is tolerated (medical or otherwise) has a booming economy. Think Oaksterdamn (the medical marijuana neighborhood in Oakland), Vancouver, Amsterdamn, ect.

    I know this is a bit off topic, but i wonder why all people who use marijuana for recreational reasons are potheads but not everyone who uses alcohol recreationally is an alcoholic.

    It is also curious that conservative America has less of a problem with a substance (alcohol) that is physically addictive, toxic (overdose is possible), makes you physically sick, can make many people belligerent and/or aggressive, can put a person in a state where they cannot even remember or control what they were doing or what they said… but a completely non-toxic, non-physically addictive, substance that does not cause inebriation, aggression, vomiting or headaches or loss of ones ability to control themselves or even remember what they were doing is illegal and anyone who uses it is deemed a “pothead”.

    “If you don’t like my fire then don’t come around cuz I’m gonna burn one down.”

  5. Creative Class » Blog Archive » This is Your Economy on Drugs - Creative Class Says:

    [...] class communitiesWho’s YOUR City?Creative ClassThe source on how we live, work and play« This is Your Candidate on Drugsby Richard FloridaWed Aug 12th 2009 at 9:30am EDTThis is Your Economy on Drugs Yesterday, I [...]

  6. Introspective Says:

    I would expect methamphetamine hits hard in the McCain (rural) areas

  7. Does Higher Unemployment Lead to More Drug Use? - Economix Blog - Says:

    [...] found that use of marijuana and cocaine were significantly and positively correlated with states whose populaces voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, for [...]

  8. Does Higher Unemployment Lead to More Drug Use? - Economix Blog - Says:

    [...] found that use of marijuana and cocaine were significantly and positively correlated with states whose populaces voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, for [...]

  9. rz Says:

    I can understand why McCain choose Palin. Alaska is a real outlier here.

  10. apikores Says:

    apparently we have the pot smokers and cokeheads, and they’ve got the meth and oxycontin addicts. think we got the better end of that deal…