I just received a copy of The Measure of America: American Human Development Report 2008-2009 (Columbia UP, 2008). The report examines three "core areas of well-being," namely, health, education, and income (or wealth). Numerous measures are used to examine, in great depth, each of these areas and the data is presented in countless well-designed charts, graphs, and tables. This volume is an absolutely essential addition to the bookshelves of students of American society. In addition to sociologists, economists, political scientists, and policy analysts, the greatest beneficiaries might be politicians and journalists. Indeed, every member of The Newspaper Guild should buy a copy immediately.
One of the most interesting aspects of the report is the American Human Development Index, a single measure of well-being that allows readers to compare men to women, races and ethnicities, regions, states, and - most exciting from my perspective - congressional districts. I would not be at all surprised if the HD Index score becomes a popular explanatory variable in all sorts of studies of aggregate political behavior in states and congressional districts.
Just for kicks, I ran some numbers to see whether voter turnout or the Democratic vote for president in 2004 correlated with a state's HD Index score. The results: r = .418 for turnout and .647 for the Democratic share of the presidential vote. That is, there wasn't a particularly strong correlation in terms of turnout (which is surprising), but there's a decent link between a state's HD Index score and support for Kerry in 2004. Democratic partisans beware - correlation does not mean causation! Still, states that voted for Kerry have a mean HD Index score of 5.60, whereas the mean score for states that backed Bush is 4.56 (a statistically significant difference).
I'm sure there will be some criticism of the HD Index. Indeed, the fact that turnout doesn't correlate very highly with the Index scores may raise questions about the validity of those scores (or maybe just about the soundness of the hypothesis that more "developed" states will have higher turnout). Incidentally, the District of Columbia's high ranking among the states in terms of the HD Index (see below) may also create some skepticism. Nevertheless, this is an extremely valuable report and I really do urge readers to get a copy.
Here, for fun, are some factoids from the HD Index:
State rankings according to HD Index (score in parentheses):
1. Connecticut (6.37)
2. Massachusetts (6.27)
3. District of Columbia (6.14)
3. New Jersey (6.14)
49. Louisiana (3.85)
50. West Virginia (3.84)
51. Mississippi (3.58)
Congressional district rankings:
1. NY 14 (8.17)
2. VA 8 (8.14)
3. CA 14 (8.08)
434. TX 29 (2.81)
435. KY 5 (2.79)
436. CA 20 (2.64)