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Why do people vote against their own self-interest?

Fri, Oct 17th, 2008
Posted in Commentary

In 2004, Thomas Frank published "What's the Matter with Kansas". It was an attempt to explain why Kansas, once a bastion of cultural liberalism has become a fortress of conservatism, both culturally and economically. Reading the book, one can't help but wonder why people so often vote against their own self interest.

Much has been made of the Democrats inability to connect and convince "white working class male" voters this election cycle. This is despite a $1,000 drop in the median income since 2000 impacting mostly those who pick up a lunch bucket and go to work every day. The average income rose substantially because those in the top income brackets rose more than substantially. This is a direct effect of the Bush tax cuts and financial policies that Republicans wish to continue.

John McCain is on record many times with support for privatizing social security, at least partially. This scorched earth financial fix we find ourselves in should make everyone reconsider placing fiscally unsophisticated people in a position to be relying on the stock market for the base of their old age and retirement. Yet, McCain does better among voters as they age.

Those old folks who find Obama scary should think about how their social security would look if privatization had occurred when first proposed. If half of their social security payments and benefits were invested in the stock market today half of their social security income would be reduced by 35%.

Privatization is being sold as an opportunity to be rich in retirement by the miracle of compounding stock in small amounts over long periods of time. In the past three weeks, retirement 401k's saw $2 trillion disappear from those plans.

The Center for Retirement Research of Boston College found the median 401k contained only 35,000 dollars and for those nearing retirement (55-64) only 60,000. Carefully husbanded, this might give an income of about $400 per month. Losing 30% of this will impoverish more retirees.

We continue to see ads for McCain/Palin apparently from veterans. McCain has voted consistently and often to limit veterans benefits. He voted against educational benefits unless the vets were essentially lifers. He voted against Veteran Hospital funds to improve facilities and reduce waiting times. He voted against equal benefits for reservists and national guardsmen. His campaign mantra - that Obama voted against funding for the troops - is more than misleading. Obama voted against a funding bill that did not contain language to bring the troops home; McCain voted against a funding bill that did contain the language.

McCain wants to extend the Bush tax cuts that give more than $130,000 dollar break to those making more than a million dollars per year and $550 to those making $30,000 per year. McCain's plan would give, on average, a $21 break to those in the bottom 20-percent of taxpayers and $325 to the middle 20-percent. Obamas' plan would give $567 dollars and $1,118 dollars to those segments. He would increase taxes on those making a quarter of a million but still less than the Bush cuts of 2000. The nation now cannot afford any tax cut.

McCain's policy changes have been so frequent and so non-sensical, that it is hard to follow him. He should be able to claim, "I was against it before I was for it" and vice versa on almost any subject.

How average working people can support these kinds of policies is a mystery to me. I confess to being a progressive liberal in the vernacular of today. It was not always thus.

It was 2002, when my local state representative was less than candid with me. I felt for the next four years I had no representative so I morphed from an independent to a progressive liberal.

It was a great time to convert. Locally we elected some progressive legislators that were more than back bench, take orders, party functionaries. We now have representatives who have ideas of their own and listen to their constituents.

Until 2006 I had never cast a ballot for one political party. There is only one party, apparently, that believes community and patriotism is founded on the idea that we are all in this together; that since we are so blessed as a nation and, for the most part, as individuals we should share with those less fortunate. Since some are more blessed with earthly goods, a progressive sharing is a reasonable payment for all the advantages of living here. I'll vote for a Republican when I find one who believes in that.

Robert Sauer lives in Preston.

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