Why Are You Voting Against Your Own Interests?


shutterstock_99826235A major pet peeve of mine in the world of politics is the phrase “voting against their own interests.” It’s usually used to indicate a sense of exasperation and disbelief on the part of the speaker that a certain group of voters is favoring a candidate or political party whom the speaker believes does not represent their best interests (see here, here, and here, for examples).

More specifically, it’s often used by Progressives to bemoan the tendency of some female voters and some of lower socioeconomic status to vote for Republicans. The insinuation is that Republicans are the “party of the rich” and they support policies that might jeopardize “women’s health” (i.e., abortion), therefore they should be universally rejected by certain classes of voters. The writers of these pieces struggle to explain this behavior and they usually settle for some combination of religious belief, small-mindedness, fear, and stupidity.

One explanation that never seems to cross the minds of those who write these pieces is that they themselves may have misidentified the “best interests” of the people on whose behalf they purport to be speaking. Put another way, it takes a special kind of arrogance to think that you are capable of defining the best interests of anyone other than yourself, much less large swathes of society. In fact, when these individuals attempt to define the “best interests” of others, they often assign those interests that drive their own behavior and choices.

This particular conceit has a long history on the left. Take Karl Marx, who — as an upper-middle-class young man in his late 20s who had never worked a day in his life — authored a philosophy defining the actions of entire classes of society based solely on what he perceived to be their material/economic interests. This sort of thinking is popular among those who believe in technocratic solutions to societal problems, i.e., that a society run by a small cadre of “engineers and scientists” can accurately identify, diagnose, and solve problems much more effectively than one that relies on the messy, sometimes maddening, processes of a democratically-elected, representative government. The failing of this political philosophy is the same as that of any other totalitarian doctrine: the fact that the likelihood of error, corruption, and outright repression grows exponentially as the number of individuals wielding authority diminishes.

That brings us back to the ‘voting against their own interest’ crowd. I have no doubt that those who are so incensed at the backwardness of others in their choice of candidates sincerely believe that they have the best interests of their “benighted” neighbors in mind. However, I would offer that their failure to conceive of motivations beyond those that consume their own thinking is an indication of an underdeveloped intellect and a dangerous level of self-regard. Such people are least qualified to advise, much less govern, their fellow citizens.

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  1. user_278007 Inactive

    I’d like to think that people occasionally ‘vote the interests’ of their children, their grandchildren, and their communities.  Baltimore, Detroit, et al are object lessons in how people should not vote if they have those interests in mind.  Great post.

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  2. user_138562 Moderator

    It’s entirely possible that my viewpoint is biased in this, but I just don’t get the sense that the Republican party feels that it is automatically entitled to classes of voters the way the Democratic party does.  Many Democrats speak as if they are the rightful owners of voters who are racial minorities, poor, gay, or women under 50.

    If a billionaire support Democrats, he is enlightened and noble for putting the country’s general interests ahead of considerations of how much it’s going to cost him.  But if you are lower income and you support Republicans because you think some things are more important than the number of weeks that you can draw unemployment, you’re a dope who doesn’t know what’s good for yourself.

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  3. user_348483 Coolidge

    -No, I am voting against your interests.

    -No, women who want to be unpaid prostitutes will have to look elsewhere for a champion.

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  4. Misthiocracy Member

    “Why aren’t you open to taking bribes?”

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  5. Asquared Inactive

    Stewart Mills: it’s often used by Progressives to bemoan the tendency of some female voters and some of lower socioeconomic status to vote for Republicans.

    My own view is that anyone voting Democratic is objectively voting against their own interests.  If you need convincing, look at the status of women and minorities in any city that has been dominated by the Democratic party for the last 30 years and compare that to women and minorities in any city that has been dominated by Republicans for the last 30 years.

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  6. Rightfromthestart Coolidge

    Wow, I’m just in awe at the breathtaking arrogance exhibited in those articles, which of course was the point of Mr. Mills post, Republicans ‘clearly’ have a war against women, others vote as thier preachers tell them. We are truly living on a different planet from those people.

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  7. SteveSc Member

    Perhaps there is more to life than my economic interests.  The arc of the country is more important than how I am doing personally.  In fact, perhaps even I’m responsible for how I’m doing, not the government.

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  8. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya

    The only way I could be assured of voting my own interests would be if I were to run for office and vote for myself.  However, even then I might fail in the task by some lights.  For example, if I were a congressman faced with a vote on taxing “the 1%” at a rate of 90%, and lowering the tax rate applied to people in my bracket, I would vote “nay”.

    I would be uninterested in lowering my tax rate if it came at the unfair expense of someone else.  Of course, this does actually represent my interest, because I am in favor of tax fairness, small government, not penalizing success, etc.

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  9. EJHill Podcaster

    It’s the old, “When you’re a hammer…” argument.

    Marxists believe that all men are nothing more than political or economic animals and therefore everyone has their price. To them, the only people who ever make a pricipled decision in the voting booth are those that can afford to so based on their annual income.

    • #9
  10. user_86050 Inactive

    That’s why they don’t understand freedom – my interests are mine to define.

    • #10
  11. Ricochet Inactive

    A retired, died-in-the-wool democrat I know recently complained about the Republican voting habits of the other seasoned citizens he met in the local senior center. Even after he explained to them that voting Republican would surely result in cuts to their Social Security and Medi-Care, they, according to him, were having none of it. The same explainer said he would not to vote Republican more than a decade ago, because the deficits being incurred in George W. Bush’s first term were endangering the country. This man is a good man, a World War II veteran but he is emblematic of the selling proposition that has been the backbone of the Democratic Party since FDR: we protect the oppressed little guy. That’s their brand, their identity, their tribe. Republicans win when they argue successfully that Democrats are are not in fact protecting the public, but putting us all in danger with their incompetence.

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  12. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H

    I vote the way that’s (infinitesimally) less immoral. Our self-interest should always be constrained by our morality, and there’s nothing moral about statism.

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  13. SParker Member

    It does seem odd that in a place with Equality under Law as its ideal you could argue voting your own interests without blushing–and immediately having a copy of Animal Farm shoved in your face.  Seems like voting against any special interest, including your own, would be the norm.  Childish thought, I know, but–WTF–are the words on the Supreme Court building like the Bonzo Dog Band joke:

    “3 days?  But the sign says 24-Hour Cleaners!”

    “Just the name of the shop, dearie.”

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  14. Ricochet Moderator

    I think the champions in the voting-against-interest category are Catholic Democrats. They fall for the rhetoric of “compassion” and assume that support for the now ancient and utterly failed War on Poverty is a measure of caring. They ignore the fact that it is the greatest anti-family program in American history.

    They have long ties to the labor movement but seem not to realize that everything the labor movement fought for–40-hour week, workmen’s comp., workplace safety, no child labor etc–is already enacted and organized labor is now just a retrograde special interest group mostly looking out for government employee union bosses.

    Much like the sheer idiocy of repeatedly re-electing a self-worshipping, women-abusing scumbag like Ted Kennedy because he is ‘one of us’, the Catholic left empowers a Democratic Party that openly seeks to destroy every vestige of Christianity in public life, drove the Catholic Church out of adoption services, imposes abortion-funding wherever it can and openly spits on religious references at its own convention and demands fealty to their sexual mores (or the absence thereof) as a condition of participating in pubic life. Yet somehow Fox News or Walmart is the real enemy.

    Also among them are the “liberation theology” suckers who followed a Soviet-developed “theology” that is openly heretical and logically destructive of core Christian doctrine as well as lives.

    The weird truth is that these people could be the most powerful voters in America. They are the white swing vote when they choose. Congenital Catholic Democrats are the core of the so-called Reagan Democrats. If you track Irish-Catholics in particular, anytime they bail on the Democratic Party, it’s over. Yet many if not most of the dissenters meekly return to the fold after each little departure, and the idiot core never leaves. The Party of late-term abortion and mandatory cake-baking should be a distinct minority party. However, the truly stupid, self-destructive Catholic left keeps that from coming to pass.

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  15. Rightfromthestart Coolidge

    Excellent post Bathos, especially :

    ‘Much like the sheer idiocy of repeatedly re-electing a self-worshipping, women-abusing scumbag like Ted Kennedy because he is ‘one of us’, ‘

    A case could be made that when historians of the future look back at the ruins of the United States they will see this bum as the single biggest reason for its destruction, from the 1965 Immigration fiasco, to food stamps to undermining South Vietnam to trying to undermine Reagan and God knows how many other disasters he had a hand in, the damage done by this one individual is almost incalculable .

    • #15
  16. Jim Kearney Contributor
    Jim Kearney

    The liberals/progressives sociable enough to ask me this question are speaking of working class white voters in the heartland. “Okay, I get how they’re religious and against us on social issues,” they tell me, “but what about all the rest of it?” By this they mean economic issues, and all those despicable Montgomery Burns types who are so clearly despoiling the environment, busting unions, and using the Citizens United decision to buy Republicans the House and Senate so they can crush the little guy.

    My response it that Democrats are all about identity politics, so what kind of identity does he think these working class Republican and Tea Party types have worked up for themselves?

    I say their identity politics are wrapped up in values like self-reliance; upward mobility; service to country; love of family; voluntary charitable giving; and yes, a path in life laid out by that Good Book of theirs.

    More often that not the liberals/progressive to whom I speak work in and around the entertainment industry, so it kind of surprises me that their perusal of Nielsen data and box office receipts hasn’t told them more about the folks they’ll be flying over next week en route to the New York presentations. And didn’t the aforementioned Good Book, a public domain literary property, provide the underlying material for yet another spate of high rated dramas about a month ago?

    So isn’t it really against their interests for liberals to know so little about their countrymen?

    • #16
  17. FloppyDisk90 Member

    I would note that the knee-jerk analysis of “voters are stupid” is just as quickly trotted out by our side whenever we rail against the mass of LIVs voting for Obama.

    • #17
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