Wednesday, September 17, 2014

In Kentucky, Voting anything but Self Interest

Cynics have always said that people just vote their own financial interests. And certainly there is a lot of that in politics: old people love Medicare and Social Security, and everybody hates paying taxes. But in Kentucky, Abby Goodnough found something very different going on. Since the Affordable Care Act was passed, Kentucky's uninsured population has fallen from 20.4 to 11.9 percent of the total -- that's about 400,000 people who didn't have health insurance but now do. Kentucky's health care exchange, Kynect, is very successful and generally popular. But even the people directly benefiting from Obamacare are planning to vote Republican:
“I’m tickled to death with it,” Ms. Evans, 49, said of her new coverage as she walked around the Kentucky State Fair recently with her daughter, who also qualified for Medicaid under the law. “It’s helped me out a bunch.”

But Ms. Evans scowled at the mention of President Obama — “Nobody don’t care for nobody no more, and I think he’s got a lot to do with that,” she explained — and said she would vote this fall for Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and minority leader, who is fond of saying the health care law should be “pulled out root and branch.”
Let us pause first to note that bizarre notion of the President's power, greater than anything Confucius ascribed to the emperor: “Nobody don’t care for nobody no more, and I think he’s got a lot to do with that.” The mind boggles. But then ponder that even though this woman has gotten herself and her daughter on Medicaid thanks to the efforts of the President and other Democrats, she still hates them. She is voting prejudice, not self interest. Based on the polls, the people of Kentucky (at least the white people) agree with her, and as a result the charisma-free Mitch McConnell will coast to reelection.

We see this sort of thing all over America. Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe once listed the issues that matter to his constituents as “God, gays, and guns.” Republicans have long anguished over why they can't get churchgoing, small-business-owning Latinos to vote for them, but the answer is pretty simple; people hate to be told, “we don't want you here.”  Ideology and identity trump interest.

Not entirely, of course -- no political party could survive in America that didn't at least claim to have pocketbook solutions for its voters. But the older I get the less impressed I am by self-interest as an explanation of anything.


Unknown said...

Like Scottish nationalism, this perverse attraction to Republicans who promise that cutting government services will somehow make us better people may be a phase that Americans just have to play out. There's some noise that the voters of Kansas, having got precisely the Republicans that they said they wanted, are now turning against them.

John said...

Yes, the vote in Kansas will be interesting, although I think that when it comes time to actually push the button party loyalty will reassert itself. I do keep wondering what would happen if Republicans ever really enacted the Federal budget cuts they say they want.

There are also those polls showing that millions of Americans who collect Medicare or Food Stamps say they have never benefited from a government program. Would they change their thinking if those programs disappeared?

G. Verloren said...

It's long been recognized that self interest is only one factor in what drives a person to vote one way or another.

Mark Twain wrote eloquently and amusingly about the very subject in his A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court, in which a 'modern' man of the later 1800s recounts his strange adventures in medieval England, introducing new economic systems and even advanced technologies like electricity and the telegraph that vastly improve the quality of life of locals, but that eventually get torn down by the locals themselves who cannot understand or value the benefits of these systems.

There is a scene in the book where (as I recall it) the traveler is discussing the merits of the township he has founded to a potential new citizen, and the fellow he is talking to simply cannot understand the situation. He has heard about this new township, and he's also heard that workers there receive lower wages than where he currently lives. The traveler points out that yes, his people are receiving 15 (or however many) silver pieces a month compared to 25 (or however many), but in his township the cost of living is much lower - goods cost roughly half as much as elsewhere, meaning effectively his workers are paid 30 silver pieces a month. But the other fellow insists that receiving a smaller number of total coins per month makes you poorer, as any fool could tell you, and insists that his own township is the better choice for paying higher wages.

People are stubborn, irrational creatures. Politics is far more about "loyalty" and pride and tradition than it is about self interest. We impeach Clinton for having a mistress (or rather, given that plenty of presidents have mistresses, we impeach him for not hiding it well enough) despite all the good things he did for the economy, education, healthcare, civil rights, and foreign relations, et cetera. Then we turn around and re-elect Bush after he starts two different overseas military occupations, drives the economy into the ground, and sets the stage for all the terrible governmental abuses that the Obama administration has seen fit to continue into the present day.
People apparently think having an affair is more damnable than starting wars and ruining lives - even when those lives are their own.

Which isn't to say Clinton was a saint, nor that his administration didn't have plenty of its own problems. But by comparison, he did a lot better overall at making people's lives better. Peace deals in the Middle East instead of new wars. A booming economy, record lows in crime and poverty and unemployment, massive educational developments, huge reductions in national debt, gun control and nuclear disarmament... the list goes on. And although one can argue for attributing at least some of that success to good luck and good timing, can anyone really imagine another Reagan or Bush having done nearly as well with the same situation?

But he couldn't keep it in his pants, and couldn't keep things quiet about it, so he gets impeached. Strange, the things people choose to care about, no?