Just Sayin'

Paul Adair is a 21-year Germantown resident, retired scientist, writer, and lecturer.

The Name Game

Political, U.S.

I recently became aware of two websites that indicate the likelihood of a person's political affiliation based on their name. From Clarity Campaign Labs comes an application in which you type-in your first name and out pops the percent chance that you would lean Democratic or Republican. For example, the site indicated that someone named Paul is 52.4% likely to identify as Republican.

Following Clarity's lead, TargetSmart developed an app based on last names. For example, 55% of Adairs nationwide are predicted to lean Republican. However, a state-by-state breakdown indicates that 58% of Wisconsin Adairs are Democrats. There seems to be a wiser, Midwest branch of our clan.

Why should your name have anything to do with how you vote? There are certainly strong trends in voter preference based on sex, age, religion, race, and ethnic background. To the extent that your name reflects your probable membership in a given demographic group, it should also correlate with your likely party preference.

Gender. There was a definite gender effect in the 2012 Presidential election. President Obama gained 54.7% of the female vote, but only 45.2 % of the male vote. Of course, one's surname does not reflect gender, but your first name usually does. Let's consider this effect.

According to data from the 1990 census, the most popular names for males were : James, John, Robert, Michael, and William. People with these male names averaged 52.9% Republican. From the same source, the most popular names for women were: Mary, Patricia, Linda, Barbara, and Elizabeth. People with these female names averaged 53.9% Democratic.

Probably the most evenly unisex name is Pat, with about one third of all Pats being male. The voting preference of Pats reflects this, as they are almost evenly split 50.2% D and 49.8% R.

Race/ethnicity. There was also a strong racial/ethnic component in how people voted in 2012. While 39.1% of whites voted for President Obama, he gained 92.7% of the black vote, 70.6% of Hispanic vote, and 72.3% of the Asian vote. How do these strong racial voting trends translate into prediction of your party affiliation from your name?

The Census Bureau lists the surnames most associated with a given race/ethnic group. For example, the "whitest" names tend to be of German origin. The top four whitest surnames, with the percentage of that surname who are white are: Yoder (98.1% white), Krueger (97.1%), Mueller (97.0%), and Koch (96.9%). People with these four last names averaged only 40% support for Democrats.

There are not nearly as many predominantly black surnames. The four last names with the highest percentage of black owners are: Washington (89.9%), Jefferson (75.2%), Booker (65.6%), and Banks (54.2%). People with these four last names averaged 85% support for Democrats.

Similarly, the top four predominantly Hispanic names are: Barajas (96.0% Hispanic), Orozco (95.1%), Zavala (95.1%), and Velaquez (94.9%). People with these four surnames lean Democratic by an average of 83%.

Age. There was a very large difference in how different age groups voted in 2012. The President garnered a hefty 59.8% of the 18 to 29 year-old vote. However, he only received 43.7% of the 65 plus vote. Trends in first name popularity over the years give some correlation between name and age. The Social Security website conveniently contains a list of the most popular US first names by birth year.

Let's compare the political leanings of people with the top 5 women's names in 1942 (age 70 in 2012) with those of women born in 1992 (20 in 2012). The top names for 70 year old women (Mary, Barbara, Patricia, Linda, and Carol) average 53.0% support for Democrats. The top names for 20 year old women (Ashley, Jessica, Amanda, Brittany, and Sarah) average a somewhat higher 55.5%.

Similarly, the top 5 men's names from 1942 (James, Robert, John, William, and Richard) average only 46.5% support for Democrats, while those from 1992 (Michael, Christopher, Matthew, Joshua, and Andrew) average a higher 48.6%. To the extent that your name implies your year of birth, it also implies your political leanings.

Religion. One's religion also predicts party affiliation probabilities. While the President got 50% of 2012 Catholic vote, 69% of Jewish vote, and 85% of Muslim vote, he only received 20% of the evangelical vote and 21% of Mormon vote. It is difficult to identify names associated specifically with Catholicism or Christian evangelicals, but such a link is possible for some names in other religions.

For example, having the Islamic first name Mohammed leads to an 80.1% likelihood of leaning Democratic. Cohen (75% D) and Levy (74% D) are the two most common surnames among US Jews. The names Brigham (38.3% D) and Nephi (37.1% D) are usually associated with Mormons.

To the extent that your name reflects your membership in various demographic groups, it also reflects your probable political leanings. As a political wonk, I find it interesting. Of course, we are talking averages of large groups and probabilities here. Everyone is an individual. If not, an old white guy like me would be writing a conservative blog.




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