- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

In the ‘80s, it was the politics of dancing. In the ‘90s, the politics of caring. Today, in bailout nation, we have the politics of driving.

The Volvo-driving liberal and the redneck in a Chevy pickup are long-held stereotypes. But a map of car ownership - produced by R.L. Polk & Co. - overlaid on the electoral map reveals the surprising extent to which how we vote corresponds with what we drive.

Blue-staters on each coast, from Los Angeles to Seattle and from Boston to the District, are the most likely to drive foreign cars. Domestic brands have their highest levels of market share in the mostly conservative interior of the country.

In some blue states - where a Democrat has won at least three of the last four presidential contests - foreign cars have as much as 60 percent of the market, as measured by vehicle registrations. It is mostly in red states - Republican strongholds - where domestic cars have 74 percent of the market or more.

This pattern holds in 36 states and the District.

The three politically purple states - those that have evenly split the last four elections - strongly prefer domestic cars.

Be careful with that party label, though - and check out the union label.

Its true that liberal Democrats are the least likely group to consider an American car, according to a recent Gallup poll. And conservative Republicans clearly prefer domestic cars. But one species turns the car-buying political spectrum inside out: conservative Democrats. The commitment of this group to buy American cars is so strong that conservative Republicans look downright bicoastal by comparison.

Fourteen states depart from the pattern, and five of them are in the Midwest. Michigan likes its politics just like its football: deep blue. But the seat of the domestic auto industry sees red about foreign cars. Import-driving visitors should consider renting a Big Three model at the state line.

Wisconsin also votes staunchly blue and drives dark red. A lot of Green Bay Packers fans work in the auto industry.

Liberal Minnesota does not have a substantial auto work force. But Midwesterners of any persuasion tend strongly to drive American cars. Dark-blue Illinois and light-blue Iowa heavily favor Detroit makes.

Maine, Pennsylvania and New Mexico - all Democratic states - have among the highest levels of domestic auto share.

In six Republican-leaning states, domestic cars have their second-lowest level of market share - as low as 55 percent. (R.L. Polk divides market share into four quartiles, with the lowest representing domestic share from 40 percent to 55 percent and the highest from 74 percent to 86 percent.)

Polling illustrates how car preferences are more of a liberal-conservative issue than a party-line matter.

Twenty-two percent of liberal Democrats say they would never consider an American car, according to a recent Gallup poll, the highest of any group. Among conservative Republicans, 14 percent would only consider a foreign car. But moderate to conservative Democrats and conservative independents put both groups to shame: Only 6 percent of the former and 8 percent of the latter said they would not consider a Detroit car.

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