About People Who Vote Against Their Own Interests.

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About People Who Vote Against Their Own Interests.


“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. That’s the only reason I can see why people in the US continue to vote against their own interests.” – John Steinbeck

There is some academic research that supports the conclusion that working people vote against their own economic interests because they unconsciously identify with the rich and not with their own kind.

I just wish I could find the study. I heard about it on NPR a few years ago and it seems like it was done by somebody at Johns Hopkins.


2 Responses to “About People Who Vote Against Their Own Interests.”

  1. Lori Says:

    It’s not obvious to me that voting should reflect the voter’s self-interest. Of course, while liberals are in struggle against conservatism, I’m in struggle against capitalism, including the notion that human conduct is automatically or necessarily self-interested.

    Liberals often praise certain wealthy people for advocating tax policy positions that go against their apparent class interests.

    I’m child-free, but I’ve never voted against a school millage.

    I’m inclined to believe that voters in general at least think about the public interest (even though “public” is being treated as a dirty word these days), as well as perhaps self interest, when deciding who and what to support in the polls.

    I suspect that what the voters in question are buying into is not so much that the economic interests of the rich coincide with their own, so much as they are buying into the notion that the private sector is inherently superior to the public sector. They have bought into the claim that those who have made a fortune in the private sector are uniquely qualified to “create jobs.” If public education is necessary to the promotion of liberal values, one thing to start with might be explaining that job “creation” is a side-effect of business growth, and by no means does it accompany all business growth. If tax breaks must be given to private business in the interest of “creating jobs,” the benefits should be targeted to industries known to be relatively labor intensive, and a little “trust but verify” might also be in order. Why not reward businesses with tax breaks after the jobs have been “created?”

    • Poor Richard Says:

      Excellent points, Lori. People sometimes speak of “enlightened self-interest” which suggests the inclusion of a broader or more “informed” set of values. Self interest is a complex, multi-dimensional, multi-perspectival thing. There’s a near-to-long term axis, a narrow-self-to-broad-social axis, etc. Different individuals will place different weights/ranks on different self-interest parameters. It is perhaps a semantic variation on the whole special/general utility question.

      Each individual would have a schema of implicit and explicit self-interest parameters. Imagine a spreadsheet with column labels naming these parameters. Under that would be a row of cells with the values (or range) for each parameter. Each cell would also have a weight and/or rank. Each cell could also have one or more algorithms/expressions that relates it to any number of other cells in the row or other external information.

      If multiple individuals shared a similar schema/value set that might be considered a self-interest species or “phenotype”.

      As we add additional individuals to lower rows of the spreadsheet we add new columns for any new parameters required for the definition of each new species or phenotype. As the population of individuals (rows) gets larger, the master schema (all column labels) approaches greater generality.

      This is only a crude metaphor as it does not adequately represent similarities and differences between the meta-data (weights, ranks, external references, algorithms, etc.) of each cell.

      I also agree with your hypothesis about public/private sector bias in some cases, and I like your idea about placing tax incentives/rewards at the back end of job creation–a very empirical approach!

      Thanks for the input!

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