Thursday, June 7, 2012

Why Do Working-Class People Vote Republican?

We've often wondered why poor people (or middle-class folks for that matter) vote Republican.  To be fair, the GOP has made a name for itself as the party of the rich.  Therefore, it makes sense to vote Republican if you are wealthy because you are voting directly in line with your own interests.  But what about the folks who are not rich?  What about the guy making $28,000/year who just got laid off because his job was shipped overseas?  Why does that guy vote Republican?

According to most folks on the Left, the reason why that guy votes Republican is because he has been bamboozled, hoodwinked and led astray by GOP talking points on social issues, such as same-sex marriage, affirmative action, illegal immigration and abortion.  And there is certainly some quantifiable truth to that proposition, however a recent article by Jonathan Haidt, a professor of psychology at NYU's Stern School of Business, suggests that the "bamboozled theory" does not actually explain why working class people vote Republican.  The "bamboozled theory," according to Professor Haidt, misses the mark and doesn't explain why more working class people are not moving to the Left in the middle of this deep recession where financial concerns should trump everything else.  Instead, he provides the following explanation as to why the blue collar workers tend to vote Republican:

Americans and Britons all love liberty, yet when liberty and care conflict, the left is more likely to choose care. This is the crux of the US's monumental battle over Obama's healthcare plan. Can the federal government compel some people to buy a product (health insurance) in order to make a plan work that extends care to 30 million other people?...In sum, the left has a tendency to place caring for the weak, sick and vulnerable above all other moral concerns. It is admirable and necessary that some political party stands up for victims of injustice, racism or bad luck. But in focusing so much on the needy, the left often fails to address – and sometimes violates – other moral needs, hopes and concerns. When working-class people vote conservative, as most do in the US, they are not voting against their self-interest; they are voting for their moral interest. They are voting for the party that serves to them a more satisfying moral cuisine. 
 Professor Haidt further explains that:

One reason the left has such difficulty forging a lasting connection with voters is that the right has a built-in advantage – conservatives have a broader moral palate than the liberals (as we call leftists in the US). Think about it this way: our tongues have taste buds that are responsive to five classes of chemicals, which we perceive as sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savoury. Sweetness is generally the most appealing of the five tastes, but when it comes to a serious meal, most people want more than that.
In the same way, you can think of the moral mind as being like a tongue that is sensitive to a variety of moral flavors. In my research with colleagues, we have identified six moral concerns as the best candidates for being the innate "taste buds" of the moral sense: care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. Across many kinds of surveys, in the UK as well as in the USA, we find that people who self-identify as being on the left score higher on questions about care/harm.

Does he have it right?  Are Republicans more in tune with the moral compass of the people, and does that moral compass trump everything else?  What say you?
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