Not all of Voters’ Self-Interests are Economic

It’s one of the oldest tropes of the left: Working class people who “should” support liberal candidates instead elect conservatives because they are tricked into voting based on cultural issues (e.g., abortion, religion). In this fashion, the theory runs, conservative candidates fool blue collar people into betraying their own self-interests.

Jonathan Haidt asks rhetorically “But are voters really voting against their self-interest when they vote for candidates who share their values?”. His answer, well-described and defended, is no. Moral and cultural interests are as much self-interests as are economic concerns. Working class voters who support conservatives are therefore not being duped. Rather, they are responding to those of their self-interests which transcend the economic.

I generally agree with Haidt’s analysis, but find both his argument and the “working class dupe” theory lacking in one respect: Why does so much effort go into analyzing this phenomenon as if it were unique to the working class? There are millionaires and billionaires, such as Warren Buffett, who advocated for higher taxes on themselves. There are legions of middle and upper-middle class people who favour expanded funding of welfare programmes upon which they themselves do not rely, but which are in keeping with their values.

In short, middle and upper class voters also often prioritize their moral interests over their economic interests. Such political behaviour is not a “working class thing”. It’s a human thing.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.