One thing that has vexed me for years is the fact that poorer, relatively unskilled people across the country tend to vote Republican, even though Republican economic policies tend to favor the rich. I’m not the first to wonder why many relatively poor people vote against their own economic interests. A good friend of mine speculated that some of them imagine that they’ll eventually be rich, so they might as well try to vote in the folks that will serve them well in the future.
I’m skeptical of that. I don’t think most blue-collar conservatives imagine that they’ll ever be millionaires. They seem to be far too interested in illegal immigrants stealing their low-wage menial jobs to have much higher aspirations.
What recently occurred to me, however, is that I myself am guilty of voting against my own economic interests, although in the opposite direction. Let me explain.
I’m fairly well-off (more by measure of my net worth than my income). I make a considerable amount of my income through investments. Republicans would be more likely to push for lower capital gains tax than Democrats, and lower income tax altogether for my tax bracket. And yet I vote Democratic.
Sure, it’s easy to vote Dem when you’re gay and atheist, as I am; it’s hard to imagine casting a vote for the party that has come to be dominated by bible-beating homophobes. But even if Republicans were to come broadly in line with Democrats with respect to issues such as gay marriage and the separation of church and state, I think I’d still vote Democratic.
Why? I see it as a quality of life issue. Republicans are likely to make the lot for poor people much worse. I live in an urban area that seems to be sensitive to economic vicissitudes, with crime and despair reigning the streets I walk every day when hopelessness abounds. I have absolutely no interest in living in a barricaded closed community. I want to be able to enjoy living in a city without feeling like I could be a victim of it, and that fellow residents are able to enjoy life too and not just struggling to scrape by.
To poor conservatives, something similar could be true. Assuming they truly understand what they’re voting for, they could reason that they’d be willing to trade some of their job security and income in favor of a world where they wouldn’t have to see gay couples getting married, recent immigrants speaking Spanish on the street, and where politicians aren’t so educated as to seem way above them. It’s a quality of life issue for them too (although what constitutes a high quality of life to them is obviously very different).
It’s sad to imagine people trading in some of their own welfare in order to maintain a homophobic and culturally-monochromatic neighborhood for themselves, but I suppose I’m willing to do the same thing for the exact opposite.