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 a lot 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 the 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 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 blue and red states, as John Judis and 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.