Food stamps and voting: What do the maps show?

Before the election much hubbub was made about the numbers of people being added as recipients to the SNAP (food stamp) program. Some wondered at the possibility of those being bought votes. In the form of a question, did the Obama administration recruit people to the assistance program to ensure a re-election victory? In the mean time, people wondered, were we being bled dry be a bunch of lazy, shiftless, good for nothings who are just taking advantage of the governmental teat?

According to the Wall Street Journal the average food stamp family in 2010 had $731 per month in gross income. They received just $287 per month from SNAP. The Journal also reported

Nearly 21% of households on food stamps also received Supplemental Security Income, assistance for the aged and blind. Some 21.4% received Social Security benefits. Just 8% of households also received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the cash welfare program.

But some 20% of households had no cash income of any kind last year, up from 15% in 2007, the year the recession began, and up from 7% in 1990.

That’s partly because most household heads who were receiving food stamps were also out of work. Just 21.8% of them had jobs in 2010, while 19.8% were jobless and looking for work.

More than half of household heads who received food stamps, 51.1%, weren’t in the labor force and weren’t searching for work. Labor-force dropouts have been a particular concern for economists, who worry their lost potential damages economic output. Those who drop out of the work force often turn to other government programs, such as Social Security disability, which is costly.


Just 6.7% of households who received food stamps were getting jobless benefits.

Nearly half of all food-stamp recipients, 47%, were children under the age of 18. Another 8% of recipients were age 60 or older.

Whites made up the largest share of food stamp households, 35.7%. Some 22% of households receiving food stamps were counted as African American and 10% were Hispanic.

U.S. born citizens made up the majority, 94%, of food stamp households.

While it is true SNAP users have increased dramatically under the Obama administration a substantial increase had already begun under the Bush 43 administration. The extent of the economic downturn between the fall of 2007 and 2011 would likely have seen a continued increase if there had been a third Bush term. (Only Clinton at -8.2% and Reagan at -2.4% have overseen declines in the last eight presidencies.)

So what about the votes? Below are four national county maps. The first is voting by county for the 2008 election. Then the amount of county-by-county increase in food stamps recipients between 2007-2009. Beneath that is the percentage of residents on food stamps in each county nationally in 2009. Finally, a county-by-county voting map of the 2012 election.

I am neither a cartographer, a politician nor the son of either. However, it looks like an awful lot of counties with high concentrations of food stamp recipients voted Red (ie, GOP). It is true that the highest numbers of recipients are in Blue (Dem) areas, but I think it is too strong a suggestion to say all food stamp recipients voted Democratic. It is also too strong to say Obama carried the day because of that vote. Since 18M people been added since Obama took office and he won by less than 3M votes, and since he garnered 9M more votes in 2008, it seems hard to argue that SNAP recipients contributed meaningfully to his victory.
2008 election map

u.s. county map food stamp growth

2009 u.s. county map food stamps

2012 election u.s. county map


Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

  • Christiane

    I like the use of statistics in politics . . . but your lens needs to be widened to include how Obama’s efforts impacted all the various demographics involved in his successful re-election. For example, take a look at this:

    ” . . . President Obama implemented the first explicit abortion reduction legislation in US history, promoting health care for pregnant women and better infant care, day care and job training. Now a new study from Washington University in St. Louis following 10,000 women for four years has shown that the provision of free contraception, one of the provisions of the new Affordable Care Act, dramatically decreased abortion among a group of high-risk girls and women.”

    • Marty Duren

      My post isn’t about Obama’s reelection in general, but the role of food stamp recipients, if any, in particular.

  • john

    “The extent of the economic downturn between the fall of 2007 and 2011 would likely have seen a continued increase if there had been a third Bush term.” what pure foolish conjecture and ignorance. it did continue, under obama, remeber the ” ineed more time”, more time to wait it out and claim responsibility for market/business cycles. the housing bubble and collapse was because of clinton era housing acts. clinton admin was warned about it in a senate hearing but did nothing and buried it. how can anyone say that this is all bushes fault, this was the result of long term issues spanning multiple presidents and because of regulation and government actions. obama did nothing to help correct it, his administrations actions only kept investors, banks, businesses on edge about the future and not making moves to grow. the economy has grown again in spite of obamas policies as any president only has so much influence over it, even with the feds horrible handling of late. the debt burden on the other hand and the handling of it is a result of whos in power and can kill our econmy, currency and markets. the amount obama spent on “recovery” and the return on it are laughable. a true free market would have corrected these and cut out the failures and cancers created by banks and corporations that should have failed.