Posted by: JanF | November 9, 2015

The myth of “they are voting against their own best interests”.

People don’t vote against their own best interests. They may vote against what others perceive to be that voter’s best interests but they themselves are voting for the candidates, or party, that they feel will best represent them and their interests. To suggest otherwise is not only disrespectful but counterproductive.

One of the Democratic Party candidates, in a cringe-worthy (for me) moment during the recent MSNBC forum, stated emphatically that working class white people in poor states are “voting against their own best interests” when they vote for Republicans. Last Tuesday, when Kentucky voted for Matt Bevin, a Republican who vowed to repeal the Kentucky implementation of the Affordable Care Act and also refuse to take the Medicaid expansion money, Twitter and the lefty blogs were filled with denunciations of “those people” voting against their best interests.

It may indeed turn out that their best interests will not be served but they did not, when they pulled that lever or touched that screen or filled in that oval, think that they were voting against themselves and their futures … maybe even their own lives or the lives of their loved ones if they subsequently lost healthcare.

Words matter. And our words questioning people’s intelligence are not going to win them over. “Oh no, that lefty librul from the lefty librul city of Madison says I am being dumb to vote for the Republican! I must mend my ways!!!” Not. Bloody. Likely.

People don’t vote against their own interests … they vote in a way that they believe promotes their best interests. Sometimes it is reflexively voting Republican because of their belief that Democrats will take their guns and shut down their coal mines and arrest them for praying and take their money and give it to the lazy and shiftless. Sometimes it is voting for the single issue of anti-abortion while ignoring someone’s Ayn Randian position on caring for the sick, sheltering the homeless, and feeding the hungry.

We need to find better ways to talk about this; I know that I would be insulted if someone told me that I was voting against my own best interests when I vote to increase my taxes to support a school referendum. Yet in their minds, the worst thing in the world is a tax increase, not uneducated children.

Our challenge will be to get people to understand the choices more clearly and to want, like I do, educated children and protection from gun violence and freedom to express my own religious beliefs and air that I can breathe, clean drinking water and food safety and all the other things that only a functioning government can provide.

People will simply shut down and stop listening if we tell them that WE know what is best for them. They have to arrive at that conclusion themselves; many won’t and that is fine, we will have to work harder for everyone else’s votes if we can’t get theirs. Some people think that the way to change people’s minds is to allow life to get so miserable that they have to see the light (our light!!). But like the fable of the North Wind and the Sun, the way to change minds is by persuasion, not coercion – to win elections and continue to demonstrate what happens when government serves the people. It is not impossible: good government programs like Social Security and Medicare have changed hearts and minds – no one but the most diehard 1%ers want those programs ended. Now we have to make supporting the other good government programs also no brainers.

We are winning the long war but because we are losing a few important battles right now it is discouraging . Here is a hopeful piece from Stan Greenberg “I’ve seen America’s future – and it’s not Republican”:

This Republican race to the political bottom is happening because America’s conservatives are losing the culture wars. The US is now beyond the electoral tipping point, driven by a new progressive majority in the electorate: racial minorities (black and Hispanic) plus single women, millennials (born between 1982 and 2000) and secular voters together formed 51% of the electorate in 2012; and will reach a politically critical 63% next year.

And each of these groups is giving Clinton, or whoever emerges as the Democratic candidate for the 2016 White House race, at least a two-to-one advantage over a Republican party whose brand has been badly tarnished. […]

America is emerging as racially blended, immigrant, multinational, multicultural and multilingual – a diversity that is ever more central to its political identity. We are not talking here about trends, but profound demographic changes accompanied by a dramatic shift in values. They have produced a country where racial minorities form 38% of the population, and 15% of new marriages are interracial. One in five global migrants end up in the US, and thus nearly 40% of the populations of New York and Los Angeles are foreign born, as are 50% of Silicon Valley’s engineers and more than half of US Nobel laureates. […]

… the culture war ignited by [Karl] Rove is a fire that requires ever more toxic fuel – it only works by raising fears of the moral and social Armageddon that would follow a Democratic victory. … [the] intensifying battle for values has also left the Republicans with the oldest, most rural, most religiously observant, and most likely to be married white voters in the country.

Those people represent about 25% of the population (and that point of view is dying off, literally as well as figuratively). Soon no one will be able to run, even in the red states, on the platform of stopping a “moral and social Armageddon” – because the economic stability and personal freedom that actually follows Democratic victories will be very appealing to those who are left.

Let’s not put our energy into anger at Those Voters but focus on energizing Our Voters. When we vote, we win. Let’s get out the vote and get out and vote.

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