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1/31/2010
THE PERSISTENT MYTH THAT PEOPLE DON’T VOTE THEIR INTERESTS

The idea that the American people are stupid sheep, fooled by Republicans into voting people into office who will do them harm really took off after the 2004 elections.

This contempt of the left for ordinary Americans may have reached its zenith with the victory of George Bush over John Kerry. The hue and cry from liberals was so bad, there was talk of secession from “Jesusland,” as well as serious discussions about leaving the country. There was even a popular website “Sorry Everybody” where angry liberals could apologize to the rest of the world for the actions of the majority in electing Bush. Many of the comments from that website blamed stupid Americans for being tricked into voting for the incumbent.

Of course, we didn’t hear much of this following the election of 2008. Apparently, Americans can be smart and vote for their interests sometimes - only when they elect Democrats.

The arrogant stupidity of this mindset among many on the left shows they don’t have a clue why people vote the way they do, nor do they have a clue about the psychology that motivates the majority of Americans.

Psephologists and psychologists have been examining this question since these scientific disciplines came into being. The answer, not surprisingly, is much more individualistic than is usually reported. Broadly speaking, It depends on class, race, ethnicity, religion, regional factors, and surprisingly, how your daddy and mommy voted.

But the book illuminates current politics and reveals some changes. For both the 2000 and 2004 elections, the analysis showed that negative perceptions of Democratic candidates Al Gore and John Kerry were more pivotal in putting a Republican in the White House than were positive perceptions of George Bush. Social groupings long identified with the two main political parties—such as labor with Democrats and business with Republicans—still exist, but are not as pronounced or clear-cut as they were. There are more independents than in the 1950s and more of them are politically active and informed. In addition, while the number of citizens who hold consistent ideological views is still small, it has increased from about 10 percent to almost 20 percent, chiefly due, Jacoby says, to “an unusually polarized period of American politics.”

Jacoby is eagerly anticipating the ANES data for the 2008 election. He predicts that the trend of ideological differentiation between the two parties will continue, showing up in stronger-than-usual policy orientations among voters. As for that voter in the booth and whether he or she will be capable of making an informed decision, Jacoby is quick to stress that “The American Voter” never said that voters are fools, and that both the original and the latest round of analysis allow for some optimism in that regard.

“Voters are not capricious,” he said. “Using the limited tools that voters employ, they vote correctly most of the time and make the vote that is relatively consistent with their interests.

There are a lot of false assumptions made about how people decide to vote for one candidate or another - not the least of which is that they make a decision based on which party or candidate promises them more goodies, or fewer for that matter. Especially when voting for president, the decision is really quite personal and making a statement like people elect Republicans by “voting against their interests” is, scientifically speaking, a crock.

That doesn’t stop the BBC from printing a story so laughably biased that it is a caricature of analysis:

Why are so many American voters enraged by attempts to change a horribly inefficient system that leaves them with premiums they often cannot afford?

Why are they manning the barricades to defend insurance companies that routinely deny claims and cancel policies?

It might be tempting to put the whole thing down to what the historian Richard Hofstadter back in the 1960s called “the paranoid style” of American politics, in which God, guns and race get mixed into a toxic stew of resentment at anything coming out of Washington.

But that would be a mistake.

Gee…that’s a relief. For a minute there I thought the Beeb was going to going to start with liberal talking points about Republicans.

If people vote against their own interests, it is not because they do not understand what is in their interest or have not yet had it properly explained to them.

They do it because they resent having their interests decided for them by politicians who think they know best.

There is nothing voters hate more than having things explained to them as though they were idiots.

As the saying goes, in politics, when you are explaining, you are losing. And that makes anything as complex or as messy as healthcare reform a very hard sell.

First, you have to believe that people who oppose Obamacare also oppose health care reform. This simply isn’t the case. Poll after poll shows Americans know there is something seriously wrong with the health care system and it needs fixing. There have even been recent polls showing that some elements of Obamacare enjoy majority support.

But what the Beeb says is resentment that the elites are trying to tell us what’s good for us leaves out a critical piece of evidence; the belief that Obamacare won’t do what the president and the liberals say it will do. It’s not resentment; it’s credibility. For the 90% of conservatives who oppose the bill, it is also an issue of individual liberty and questionable constitutionality. But it is the independents who are making Obamacare unsellable, not Republicans or conservatives. It is they who oppose the individual mandate, the Medicare cuts, and the price tag while resenting the deal making, the exemptions for special interests, and the general non-transparency of the process. It is independents that Blue Dogs are terrified of alienating and that’s why the bill is currently stalled.

But what about the ballot box? Does opposition to Obamacare really translate into people “voting against their interests” come election time?

Here’s the Beeb’s summary of the arguments in “What’s the Matter with Kansas” by Thomas Franks:

He believes that the voters’ preference for emotional engagement over reasonable argument has allowed the Republican Party to blind them to their own real interests.

The Republicans have learnt how to stoke up resentment against the patronising liberal elite, all those do-gooders who assume they know what poor people ought to be thinking.

Right-wing politics has become a vehicle for channelling this popular anger against intellectual snobs. The result is that many of America’s poorest citizens have a deep emotional attachment to a party that serves the interests of its richest.

Thomas Frank says that whatever disadvantaged Americans think they are voting for, they get something quite different:

“You vote to strike a blow against elitism and you receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our life times, workers have been stripped of power, and CEOs are rewarded in a manner that is beyond imagining.

It is evident that Frank never looked at the exit polls from 2004 or 2008. The poorest Americans support Democrats, the Middle Class is nominally Republican, while the richest Americans lean GOP. Obama’s victory was fueled by a shift in those making $30-50 thousand of about 6% from Republican to Democrat. The “poor” - those making less than %30,000 - vote Democrat by large majorities. It was those Americans who basically live paycheck to paycheck who switched to the Democratic side in 2008.

Did they “vote their interest?” If so, what gave them such clarity of mind to do so in 2008 while voting stupidly in 2004 when they gave Bush a bare majority?

Writing at Protein Wisdom, Sanity Inspector:

As someone said recently, in other countries, people demonstrate for the government to do more things for them. Only Americans would turn out in the streets for huge demos, demanding that the government leave them the hell alone.

Playing elitists off against ordinary voters is indeed, a political club the Republicans use to good effect. And why not when the elitists can’t fathom the above statement? It is as alien a language as Farsi to them, this idea that people actually enjoy individual liberty and won’t trade it for what the liberals believe to be “economic security.”

The whole idea that Americans aren’t smart enough to vote their interests, or even more insulting, are hoodwinked by evil Republicans into voting incorrectly reveals a state of mind among lefties that shows them to be out of touch with the vast majority of Americans who live in “fly-over country” (a term of derisiveness they invented). The fact that the majority of people aren’t motivated to vote the same way and for the same reasons as their supposed betters - and the subsequent puzzlement by many liberals that flows from this reality - will always give the GOP a chance no matter how bad their candidates or how loopy their ideas may be.

By: Rick Moran at 10:38 am
11 Responses to “THE PERSISTENT MYTH THAT PEOPLE DON’T VOTE THEIR INTERESTS”
  1. 1
    newrouter Said:
    11:05 am 

    If people vote against their own interests,

    aren’t the private sector union voting against their interest in supporting democrat environmental policy? drill here, drill now should be a union worker thing.

  2. 2
    Allen Said:
    11:48 am 

    It’s not as if Congress and the Presidency don’t have a track record. Just a few off the top of my head.

    1. Fix Social Security for all time, Reagan with a democrat Congress.
    2. Illegal immigration problem solved, Reagan with a democrat Congress.
    3. Glass-Steagell repealed to bring innovation to banks, Clinton with a republican Congress.

    It’s not that the people don’t know their own interests it’s that the proposed legislation often brings counter-productive results, and the voters know it. This is the same reason why voters shrieked when Bush talked about SS reform, immigration reform, and now Obama and healthcare reform. It’s not the issue itself, it’s the ability of Congress and the President to bring reform that won’t make things worse. Right now the voters don’t trust them to do that.

  3. 3
    Dee Said:
    12:21 pm 

    There has always been “arrogant stupidity” on both far wings of the political spectrum. We heard plenty of whining about Reagan and the Bushes from the left…and plenty of whining about Clinton and Obama from the right. American politics, where perception IS reality. It is, and has always been a case of who can do the best selling job and/or demonize the other side most effectively. The end result is that Americans do often vote against their best interests, but the republic survives.
    DEE

  4. 4
    The Sanity Inspector Said:
    12:55 pm 

    Thanks for the link love, Rick!

  5. 5
    Dee Said:
    2:18 pm 

    RE:”The hue and cry from liberals was so bad, there was talk of secession from “Jesusland,” as well as serious discussions about leaving the country….Of course, we didn’t hear much of this following the election of 2008.”

    I must assume this was said as a joke.
    All you have to do is google “Obama secede” and you will find hundreds of super patriotic righties who proclaimed it was time to leave the union. (…including the sitting Republican governor of Texas!…)
    DEE

  6. 6
    TomD Said:
    3:48 pm 

    I’m sure most People read the health care bill and independently concluded it would be a Bad Thing…

    But at least you’ve half-realized politics is about perception rather than reality.

  7. 7
    John G. Said:
    8:20 pm 

    It seems to me there is another way to critique Frank’s argument. He assumes that most people who vote for the Republicans have been fooled into voting for a party against their interests. This rests on the assumption that lower middle-class or middle-class people recognize their true interests as being a government which moves money in their direction.

    But a substantial number of people in those groups believe (rightly or wrongly) that their opportunity to advance would be best served by a government which limits its involvement in the marketplace (in a broad sense - not just economics). That is, fewer regulations, lower taxes, etc. Many of these people are OK (again, rightly or wrongly) with a government which legislates to some extent on social issues. Since the Republicans, until recently, limited meddling in the marketplace, that party had the support of those people. In other words, those people WERE voting for their economic interests (again, as they saw them, rightly or wrongly) because they believed their interests were best served by a government which limited meddling.

  8. 8
    UNRR Said:
    5:14 am 

    This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 2/1/2010, at The Unreligious Right

  9. 9
    mannning Said:
    12:14 pm 

    Playing elitists off against ordinary voters is indeed, a political club the Republicans use to good effect. And why not when the elitists can’t fathom the above statement? It is as alien a language as Farsi to them, this idea that people actually enjoy individual liberty and won’t trade it for what the liberals believe to be “economic security.”

    Some day, someone will take on the task of identifying these so-called “elites” and their real preferences in life, government, and associations. Till then, I think that the concept is far too hazy, sort of like “the poor”, which is quite largely a transient state in the US.

    Tell me how to recognize an “elite” when I pass one on the street, meet one socially, or go hunting for one. Just who are they, anyway?

    Are they the dreaded popcorn-idea-men intellectuals that Thomas Sowell writes about that want the power to make laws of their popcorn and to experiment on the public with all manner of provisions; are they the wealthy, the high Democratic officials, the professors, the politicos, liberals, Ivy League grads, kooks, some of all of this, or what?

    No one seems to want to name names and give bios, so the elites can’t be hunted down effectively, even with bird dogs.

    It reminds me of Jeff Foxworthy’s: “You may be a Redneck if….” joke list. You may be an elite if you graduated from Yale, are worth over a million inherited dollars, have the required liberal guilt syndrome, are a frustrated professor of something exotic, write books no one reads, and vote Democratic across the board. (or not!)

    (Plea #2)

  10. 10
    Richard Bottoms Said:
    4:16 pm 

    I don’t suggest that people who vote Republican are fooled into doing so, simply that the GOP is good at picking issues over which you make dumb electoral choices.

    Henry Hyde moaning about the babies comes to mind, as your people vote over and over again for politicians who assure you THEY will be the ones to finally end abortion. So you overlook their lack of fiscal restraint and votes against things like extending unemployment insurance because of **the babies**, moan, wail.

    You’d really like health insurance at reasonable rates, no rescission or pre-existing condition clauses, but you dislike gays marrying more than your health so you vote for the firebrand who will protect marriage while make do with no coverage, one illness away from catastrophe.

    You’d go find Bin Laden yourself in the hills of Pakistan if you could, but since you can’t you vote for the meanest sounding war hawk you can, never mind he’s a global warming denialist and believes the Earth is 4,000 years old.

    So yes, people vote the GOP for a lot of narrow, and to my mind stupid reasons, but you do it with your eyes wide open.

  11. 11
    Richard Bruce Cheney Said:
    5:01 pm 

    “You know, Paul(Rick), Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.”

    Keep toting that water Rick.

    That’s a pretty obscure comment - even coming from a nitwit like you.

    What exactly is your criticism? That I don’t care about deficits? That the government should indeed write a tax code that attempts to coerce people into acting or behaving a certain way?

    You’re too stupid to address any of the points I made, too dumb to argue intelligently about anything I’ve written. So you leave some obscure comment and fail to engage because you’re too ashamed that the issues and arguments are beyond your capacity to respond.

    That’s ok - I’m sure you can find some site worthy of your intellect and acumen. Try Romper Room.

    ed.

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