Saturday, October 15, 2011

People who "vote wrong"

A recent post on the Internet asked why so many people of modest background and income are voting Republican. Don't they understand that this is against their own interest? Such voting, the assumption seems to go, is a form of self-damaging behavior (itself a rather murky concept).

The issue of why the large sectors of the proletariat have not rallied to "progressive" parties, where ostensibly their true interests lie, was discussed in extenso by Marxist theorist in the 1930s, under the rubric of "false consciousness." If the workers had a true consciousness of their situation they would not behave in this way. But they are beguiled by the media and other instruments of capitalist propaganda to desert their true interests. If this cloud of misinformation could be lifted then they would start voting as they should.

Marxists have sometimes framed the issue in terms of commodity fetishism. In my view this latter dubious concept is not helpful, so I will not explore it further here.

One reason why people vote "against" their (present) interest, is that they have hopes of economic mobility. That is to say, they expect that they will be able to move from their present lowly state to a more prosperous one. Putting into place the restrictions and taxation on this sector that progressives seem to want would harm their long-term interest.

Interpretations of upward mobility are contradictory. However, it is sufficient to note that many people b e l i e v e that they have this capacity.

Another fallacy is that interests are solely economic. Many people believe that "values," however defined, may trump pure economic motives. Thus those who decry false consciousness are imposing an inappropriate monistic model of the economic man,
which is not universally valid.

Finally, most of this handwringing about people voting "against their own interest" is performed by outsiders, by intellectuals who do not share the experiences of the voters in question. It would be more useful to hear from the people themselves who are allegedly voting wrong.



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