Last week, in the comments following my story about anticipated Congressional attempts to limit Social Security, many readers wrote, some in anger, about elders who vote against their own best interests.
I know exactly how they feel. Actually, I am equally enraged and puzzled by these people. It is one thing to harm yourself. It is quite another to pass on that harm to others, loved ones included.
When a person votes for a politician who has promised to cut, eliminate or privatize Social Security, Medicare, SNAP, etc., he or she is voting to impoverish their children's and grandchildren's old age (and/or disability) in addition to their own.
And yet, I've never met a grandparent who wouldn't give their life, if necessary, for their progeny.
Rather than just stew about this perplexity, I took a tour of the web to see what reasons I could find. In no way is what follows meant to be real research or anything definitive - it is just some explanations I found to be worth thinking about.
The answers (if that's what they are) are many and in every place I looked, the serious ones are complicated. The quotations below are lengthy but please be patient enough to read them. There are clues in them.
Many people who wonder about this paradox believe racism plays a role. Gary Younge, writing in The Guardian in 2012, takes on that reasoning:
”...most of these explanations regarding deeply held religious beliefs, class aspiration and political philosophy are no less of non whites than whites. Blacks and Latinos are both poorer and more religious than the nation at large and vote overwhelmingly Democrat.
“While racism may not be the primary motivating force behind poorer whites tendency to vote Republican it is certainly a factor.
"'I voted for McCain,' says Price in Kentucky's Floyd county as he snatched a cigarette outside the food bank. 'Because, well I voted for the old white guy. At least he's American.'
“A few days earlier, the chairman of the Republican party in Jackson County, Arkansas, insisted electing Obama is destroying America in the same way electing Nelson Mandela destroyed South Africa. 'Handing it over to the wrong people.'"
There is much more of interest in Gary Younge's essay including some easy-to-understand numbers and statistics that clear up some misunderstands. One of the most fascinating is that most poor people do NOT vote Republican”:
In 2008 73% of those who earned less than $15,000, 60% of those who earned between $15,000 and $30,000, and 55% of those who earned between $30,000 and $50,000 voted for Obama.
“This year , 57% of those earning less than $36,000 plan to vote Democrat as do 50% of those with a high school diploma or less. Even in deeply conservative Mississippi the overwhelming majority of the poor voted for Obama.”
Another explanation involves evangelical preachers and right wing radio and TV pundits who bamboozle their followers into voting Republican. This is Robert Sobel writing at examiner.com in 2012:
“Even when conservatives leave the comfort of their conservative church, they quickly turn the TV to the right wing news station, Fox News, or set the radio dial to conservative mouth pieces like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck or Michael Savage.
“The Republican party and the pundits who support them, use an agenda of fear...using what conservatives hold close to them against them, their religion. Republicans push the fear of gays, Muslims, atheists and others who aren't evangelical Christians onto conservatives voters, using those fears to bypass many economic issues that could normally work against them.”
As you might expect given his career specialty, economist and former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, at his personal blog last January, explains how economic desperation drives people to vote against their interests.
”The wages of production workers have been dropping for thirty years, adjusted for inflation, and their economic security has disappeared. Companies can and do shut down, sometimes literally overnight. A smaller share of working-age Americans hold jobs today than at any time in more than three decades.
“People are so desperate for jobs they don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want rules and regulations enforced that might cost them their livelihoods. For them, a job is precious — sometimes even more precious than a safe workplace or safe drinking water.
“This is especially true in poorer regions of the country like West Virginia and through much of the South and rural America — so-called 'red' states where the old working class has been voting Republican.
“Guns, abortion, and race are part of the explanation. But don’t overlook economic anxieties that translate into a willingness to vote for whatever it is that industry wants.”
Last July, Edwin Lyngar wrote a stunning essay in Salon about his conversion, at age 40, from the Republican Party to the Democrats. First, he recounts his many years of poverty, public assistance and inability to gain ground in any manner while he continued to vote Republican and Tea Party:
”To make up for my own failures, I voted to give rich people tax cuts, because somewhere deep inside, I knew they were better than me. They earned it. My support for conservative politics was atonement for the original sin of being white trash.”
It was the financial crisis of 2008 that propelled him to spend some time re-evaluating his political views.
”I finally 'got it.' In 2012, I shunned my self-destructive voting habits and supported Obama. I only wished there were a major party more liberal than the Democrats for whom I could vote.”
Lyngar finishes up his personal saga by recounting the life of an unregenerate conservative friend. This, I believe, comes closest of everything I read to answering our question:
”I have a close friend on permanent disability. He votes reliably for the most extreme conservative in every election. Although he’s a Nevadan, he lives just across the border in California, because that progressive state provides better social safety nets for its disabled.
“He always votes for the person most likely to slash the program he depends on daily for his own survival. It’s like clinging to the end of a thin rope and voting for the rope-cutting razor party.
“The people who most support the Republicans and the Tea Party carry a secret burden. Many know that they are one medical emergency or broken down car away from ruin, and they blame the government.
“They vote against their own interests, often hurting themselves in concrete ways, in a vain attempt to deal with their own, misguided shame about being poor. They believe 'freedom' is the answer, even though they live a form of wage indenture in a rigged system.”
If you don't read any other link in today's post, please read Edwin Lyngar. All the pundits, academics, reporters and experts, as earnest as they are, haven't come close to this man's honest examination of working class Republican voters.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz: Things the Kids Have Said to Me