Presidential campaigns come and go, but voters consistently insist the economy is the top election issue — regardless of party. With student loan debt at an all-time high of $1.3 trillion and salaries barely budging, this year is no different.
But Americans are complicated, and we don’t always vote like we talk. For instance, we compared the personal debt of residents in red states and blue states and discovered something fascinating…
Voters in Republican states hate deficit spending in their government, but embrace it in their own lives. Meanwhile, voters in Democratic states say government debt isn’t an issue — but are more likely to avoid it in their own lives.
We’re generalizing, but you can look at the trends and judge for yourself. Check out this map for details, then continue below for our analysis…
Red states fall behind more often
Seven of the top 10 states in our ranking support Republican candidates for state and national offices. Republican states also make up 60 percent of the list’s top half.
It’s worth noting there are more Republican-leaning states overall. Here’s the current political breakdown our map uses:
- Solidly Republican: 16 states
- Leans Republican: 13
- Supports both parties: 6
- Leans Democrat: 8
- Solidly Democrat: 7
Many political maps simply gauge party support by the most recent presidential election, which would result in a 26-24 split and an extra blue state (Nevada) in our top 10 ranking. But we also looked at Congressional, gubernatorial, and state legislative elections under the pretty reasonable assumption those offices have an important impact on money-related policy, too.
Regardless, one thing is pretty clear: Republican-leaning states have more trouble paying the bills on time. For instance, the highest default rates on student loans — 14 percent and up — are mostly in red states. The only blue state among the top 10 default rates, New Mexico, has the highest in the country at 20 percent.
Republican states also crowd out the top when you look solely at mortgage or credit card delinquency. The 90-day credit card delinquency rates are especially striking, with no blue states in the top 10.
Blue states tend to have more credit available
While red states are more likely to default on student loans, blue and purple states tend to borrow more. Delaware, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania have the highest student loan debt, and the first red state is Iowa at No. 8.
Blue states also have higher credit limits. Among the states with the 10 highest average card balances, Alaska is the only red one. The highest credit utilization — the percentage of available credit being used, a major factor in credit scores — also skews red. Correspondingly, nine of the 10 states with the lowest average credit score are red. (New Mexico is once again the blue exception.)
Having more credit available isn’t always a good thing. The more access to credit you have, the easier it is to bite off more than you can chew. For instance, among the 10 states with the highest foreclosure rates, only Florida and Nevada are slightly red.
Methodology and data
Political leanings were determined by looking at the current make-up of Congress, state legislatures, governorships, and who each state supported in the 2012 presidential election. Politics plays no part in the rankings themselves.
The rankings are based on the 13 factors displayed when you click on any state — each one is weighted equally. For each factor, every state is given a normalized score out of 100 based on the range of actual values. The totals from those 13 scores determine the rankings.
Data on student loans comes from The Institute for College Access & Success and the U.S. Department of Education. Mortgage data comes from Black Knight Financial Services and ConsumerFinance.gov. Credit and collections related data comes from a variety of sources including The Urban Institute, TransUnion, Experian, and CreditSesame.