Why do working class and rural Republicans vote against their own interests?

Many of us from the left unblinkingly characterize working class and rural Republicans as narrow-minded dupes tricked into voting against their own economic interests. When we do, however, we tend to dismiss the near primal allure of the broader moral sensitivities inherent to the conservative foundation of their party.

A Student News Daily article offers a concise delineation of Conservative vs. Liberal Beliefs:

Liberals believe in government action to achieve equal opportunity and equality for all. It is the duty of the government to alleviate social ills and to protect civil liberties and individual and human rights. Believe the role of the government should be to guarantee that no one is in need. Liberal policies generally emphasize the need for the government to solve problems.

Conservatives believe in personal responsibility, limited government, free markets, individual liberty, traditional American values and a strong national defense. Believe the role of government should be to provide people the freedom necessary to pursue their own goals. Conservative policies generally emphasize empowerment of the individual to solve problems.

That’s pretty much a textbook comparison of the opposite ends of our political spectrum, offered primarily as a frame of reference. But social psychologist Jonathan Haidt offers a much more compelling clinical analysis in his article, What Makes People Vote Republican?:

What makes people vote Republican? Why in particular do working class and rural Americans usually vote for pro-business Republicans when their economic interests would seem better served by Democratic policies? We psychologists have been examining the origins of ideology ever since Hitler sent us Germany’s best psychologists, and we long ago reported that strict parenting and a variety of personal insecurities work together to turn people against liberalism, diversity, and progress. But now that we can map the brains, genes, and unconscious attitudes of conservatives, we have refined our diagnosis: conservatism is a partially heritable personality trait that predisposes some people to be cognitively inflexible, fond of hierarchy, and inordinately afraid of uncertainty, change, and death. People vote Republican because Republicans offer “moral clarity”—a simple vision of good and evil that activates deep seated fears in much of the electorate. Democrats, in contrast, appeal to reason with their long-winded explorations of policy options for a complex world.

Indeed, this excerpt makes very short shrift of Haidt’s article, but I hope it whets your interest enough to take the time to read it through. Along with the replies. From my own perspective, I found it very enlightening in the sense that I now appreciate the moral and social underpinnings of such behavior. Nevertheless, I still find it vexing that a whole cottage industry of rightist punditry sprang up and continues to thrive for the sole purpose of exploiting the fears of their loyalists.

1 Comment on: “Why do working class and rural Republicans vote against their own interests?”

  1. Aremel says:

    I think it’s ultimately going to come down to “us or them.” What’s at stake is not just prosperity, but sustainability. Those who steer the rudder of economic policy make the decisions about how our planet’s finite resources are going to be used. With seven billion people on the Earth, it would take ingenuity to meet the survival needs of our growing population. That ingenuity is being actively suppressed and sabotaged by entrenched industries such as petrochemicals, who don’t want us to have water-powered cars or renewable sources of energy, and defense contractors who accept corporate welfare to make $100 toilet seats for the military and who obviously don’t want that money being spent teaching minority kids to read. In fact those very interests have enough power in our corrupt government to instigate wars in the nuclear era for the sake of profiteering.

    That doesn’t even touch the issues of Monsanto and their genetic pollution, the unknown side effects of the drugs being pushed on us by Big Pharma, or the ongoing nuclear catastrophe happening this very moment at Fukushima that nobody knows what to do about. Meanwhile rusty old cold-war era nuclear power plants continue to operate in many countries including the US, getting older and rustler every day we haven’t shut them down and turned to ANY other source of power at all.

    So the problem is worse than the hard working poor voting for people who will make their lives harder by saddling them with debt and cutting their wages. It’s the fact that those people are, today at this moment, making decisions that will affect whether and how human beings continue to live on this planet, and they are torching the candle at both ends. If it turns out that the percentage of humans who are wise to the game cannot wrest and hold control from the ones whose need for “moral clarity” is being manipulated against them, it’s not just those poor fools who will pay the price, it’s all of us.

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