Ever since the publication of Thomas Frank’s book, What’s the Matter with Kansas, we have been grappling with the issue of why poor and working-class people seem to vote against their own economic self-interest. Frank’s view was that these voters were being manipulated by Republican elites into being distracted by social issues like guns and abortion.
Alec MacGillis, in a recent report, offers a different view:
In eastern Kentucky and other former Democratic bastions that have swung Republican in the past several decades, the people who most rely on the safety-net programs secured by Democrats are, by and large, not voting against their own interests by electing Republicans. Rather, they are not voting, period. They have, as voting data, surveys and my own reporting suggest, become profoundly disconnected from the political process.
The people in these communities who are voting Republican in larger proportions are those who are a notch or two up the economic ladder — the sheriff’s deputy, the teacher, the highway worker, the motel clerk, the gas station owner and the coal miner. And their growing allegiance to the Republicans is, in part, a reaction against what they perceive, among those below them on the economic ladder, as a growing dependency on the safety net, the most visible manifestation of downward mobility in their declining towns.
And recent research, as surveyed by Sean McElwee, challenges the official view that class bias in the U.S. electorate doesn’t matter.
The old political science consensus holds that voters and non-voters hold similar policy preferences. Political scientists relied on American National Election Survey (ANES) data, which suggested that “voters are virtually a carbon copy of the citizen population.” However, that consensus is now being seriously challenged, with three important studies showing that there are significant political differences between voters and non-voters.
In a 2007 paper that forms the basis for their book, Who Votes Now, Jan Leighley and Jonathan Nagler found that large gaps had opened up between voters and non-voters on opinions about the size of government and the proper extent of redistribution. . .voters are more likely to oppose unions, government-sponsored health insurance and federal assistance for schools.
These findings are supported by a Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) study of Californians from 2006. The study found that non-voters are more likely to support higher taxes and more services. They are also more likely to oppose Proposition 13 (a constitutional amendment which limits property taxes) and to support affordable housing. A 2014 study by PPIC finds that the gap remains, with non-voters far more likely to support higher taxes and more services. . .
A 2012 Pew study that examined likely voters and non-voters finds a strong partisan difference. While likely voters in the 2012 presidential election split 47 percent in favor of Obama and 47 percent in favor of Romney, 59 percent of nonvoters supported Obama and only 24 percent supported Romney. The study also found divergence on key policy issues, including healthcare, progressive taxation and the role of government in society. . .The splits are primarily along class lines. After reviewing evidence from the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP), Larry Bartels concluded that “No other rich country even came close to matching [the U.S.] level of class polarization in budget-cutting preferences.”
The United States now has an electorate that votes for what they want and what they don’t want other people to have—and that doesn’t include many of the poor and working-class people who would most gain from a different political economy, including stronger, more generous government programs.
As Aleks Kajstura and Russ Immarigeon [ht: ja] explain,
Across the globe, the 25 jurisdictions with the highest rates of incarcerating women are all American states. Thailand, at number 26, is the first non-U.S. government to appear on this high-end list, followed closely at number 27 by the Unites States itself. The next 17 jurisdictions are also American states.
Overall, with the exception of Thailand and the U.S. itself, the top 44 jurisdictions throughout the world with the highest rate of incarcerating women are individual American states.
Nearly 30% of the world’s incarcerated women are in the United States, twice the percentage as in China and four times as much as in Russia.
Putting U.S. states in a global context is sobering; even the U.S. states that have comparatively low rates of incarceration far out-incarcerate the majority of the world.
Illinois’ incarceration rate for women is on par with El Salvador, where abortion is illegal and women are routinely jailed for having miscarriages. New Hampshire is on par with Russia, and New York with Rwanda.
Rhode Island, which has the lowest incarceration rate for women in the U.S.would have the 15th highest incarceration rate in the world if it were a country. In other words, only 14 countries (not including the United States) incarcerate women at a higher rate than Rhode Island, the U.S. state that incarcerates women at the lowest rate of imprisonment.
Since the data are missing from the chart, I should explain the U.S. rate as a whole is 127 per 100,000 population, just behind Thailand (130). West Virginia has the highest rate of U.S. states (273). The rate in Illinois (88) is just ahead of El Salvador (87), while the rate in Rhode Island (39) is higher than Kazakhstan (38).
Americans may not know the exact numbers (e.g., about wealth inequality or the CEO-to-worker pay gap). But, as it turns out, they’re very clear that their country is characterized by declining opportunity and growing inequality.
According to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute,
Americans across the political spectrum and from all walks of life are deeply concerned that the American economic system is not fair. What’s more, concerns about the fairness of the economic system have increased significantly over the past year.
For example, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Americans believe that “one of the big problems in this country is that we don’t give everyone an equal chance in life,” while fewer than three in ten (28 percent) believe that “it is not really that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others.” Concerns about the lack of equal opportunity have increased considerably since 2010, when 53 percent said that one of the big problems in the United States was the lack of equal opportunities for all.
Here are some of the other findings in the survey:
There is widespread agreement that the current economic system is heavily tilted in favor of the wealthy. Nearly eight in ten (79%) Americans agree that the economic system unfairly favors the wealthy, compared to roughly one in five (21%) who disagree. Current views represent an increase of 13 percentage points from 2012, when 66% of Americans agreed.
negative feelings toward large business corporations in the U.S. have also increased in recent years. Eighty-four percent of Americans agree that business corporations do not share enough of their success with their employees, compared to 15% who disagree. These negative views are up 15 percentage points from the previous year, when 69% of the public agreed that American businesses were not sharing enough of their profits with their workers. There is broad agreement with this assessment across a range of demographic groups.
The public today remains less confident that hard work is the key to economic success. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Americans agree that hard work is no guarantee of success, while more than one-third (35%) disagree. Current sentiments represent a 10-point increase since 2013, when 54% of Americans agreed with this statement.
More than three-quarters (76%) of the public supports raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. Support has ticked up slightly since last year, when 69% of Americans expressed support for raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
Americans overwhelmingly support requiring companies to provide all full-time employees with paid sick days if they or an immediate family member gets sick, and requiring companies to provide all full-time employees with paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child. Eighty-five percent of Americans favor paid sick leave and 82% support paid parental leave.
Americans correctly understand that both declining opportunity and increasing inequality are significant problems in their country.
The question now is, what are they going to do about it?