SID SALTER: Social issues carry the day in Mississippi

By Sid Salter

STARKVILLE – The stagnant economy of the last few years has produced varying degrees of human impact across the nation. U.S. Census numbers released last week show that median household income declined in 18 states between 2010 and 2011 and that the percentage of people in poverty increased in 17 states over the same time frame.
But in Mississippi, those same indices of economic progress saw no real movement. Mississippi remains in the lead in the U.S. in the poverty rate and dead last in the index of median household income. Census numbers showed Mississippi with a poverty rate of 22.6 percent in 2011 with median household income of $36,919.
Nationally, the poverty rate is 15 percent while the median household income is $50,054. The diagnosis for Mississippi based on those numbers is far more people than the national average in poverty struggling to live on far less income than the national average.
While the economic impact is undeniable, the political impact in Mississippi is negligible. Mississippi remains a state that is heavily dependent on government subsidies, welfare, public health care and a host of other federal transfer payments. Mississippians continue to pay in far less per capita in federal taxes than they receive in federal spending.
Despite those facts, Mississippi remains a “red” state based on social issues. As the Democratic Party saw party platforms evolve on issues ranging from civil rights to abortion to gun control to questions of religious freedoms, the Republican Party began to make inroads not merely at winning the votes of the majority of Mississippians in federal elections but ultimately in state elections as well. Today, Mississippi’s poverty and median household income numbers suggest that the political fields should be ready to harvest for candidates preaching big government solutions to basic economic problems like health care, elder care, nutrition and cooperation with Big Labor.
But the numbers show emphatically that the facts of Mississippi’s poverty disconnect with Mississippi’s voting behavior on social issues. The majority of Mississippians still oppose abortion on demand. The majority of Mississippians oppose any erosion of their gun rights. Likewise, the majority of Mississippians still oppose any intrusion they perceive on the free expression of their primarily Protestant, Judeo-Christian faiths.
Barring a misstep of gargantuan proportions by Gov. Mitt Romney, he will carry Mississippi on Nov. 6.
Some will dismiss that outcome as race being the common denominator in Mississippi politics. To do so dismisses more fundamental facts. Even the poorest Mississippians have bedrock beliefs – some founded in their faith, some founded in their sense of right and wrong and much founded in tradition.
They vote their beliefs, not necessarily their wallets. But at some point in the future, as Mississippi’s population evolves, poverty and lack of resources may one day trump social issues. That day won’t be in the 2012 presidential election.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601) 507-8004 or sidsalter@sidsalter.com