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Why Do People Vote Against Their Own Interests?

It is a known fact that people vote against their own interests even though it harms them in the future.


In recent elections, about 60 percent of the voter population voted during presidential election years and only about 40 percent voted during midterm elections. 2018's midterm elections, however, saw record turnout. This comes at the same time as voter angst and political ideology are at an all time high.

Now, before anyone actually goes to the polls and votes in any election, it is necessary that people educate themselves on which candidates represent their economic and social groups, and will benefit them in the long run, which should be the deciding factor to their vote. However, voter outcome has indicated that this is not always the case.

Throughout voting history, there has been a pattern that suggests that people vote against their own interests. For example, in the last presidential election, a large quantity of immigrants supported Donald Trump, who followed an anti-immigrant policy, and poor working class white voters who are usually on board with the Democratic party voted for the Republican party. Why do people vote against their own interests if it will harm them in the future?

The 2016 Presidential Election

The 2016 presidential election sets the perfect example to this question. Oftentimes, we hear complaints of Donald Trump stating that those that voted him into the Oval Office will suffer from his policies. Some of the policies include the tax policy where tax cuts would be provided for the wealthy, solely benefiting the rich; as well as his health care policy, in which he repealed Obamacare and cut funding to Planned Parenthood, burdening the poor and middle class overall. Many people who would seem like allies turned out to be rivals and vice-versa, which lead to people voting against their own interests. Why the sudden change in thought?

Resentment

Photo via Carlos Herrero

To put it into perspective, those who live in middle America, AKA, poor, white working class voter, have become frustrated and resentful over time because the social programs that were put in place to help them actually helped ethnic minorities instead. The white males from this group also became resentful towards the advancement of women in society, and thus voted against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, which went against their general interest, too.

Resent is a huge factor when it comes to a voter's decision. When someone feels the anger and frustration, it leads them to act out against their own beliefs to fill the void in their resentment. Or, it may also be caused by the belief that politicians will not commit to their promises; and therefore, won’t make a change to economic outcomes anyway. Just consider the reasons the people voted Brexit, if you don't believe that.

Every presidential election, voters are faced with two candidates. If one of the candidates is automatically out-ruled by personal preference, then you are presented with only one candidate. Voters who turned against Hillary because of an array of reasons (her dishonesty, deleted emails, or other conspiracy theories) ended up voting for Trump because he was the only other option.Therefore, people vote against their own interests because it is an emotional reaction towards the situation.

Partisanship

Photo via Diffen

On the other hand, partisanship is another reason as to why voters continuously support candidates and ideas with opposing interests. To break it down, partisanship is when someone, let's say a voter, is biased and in favor of a particular cause, or in this case, a particular party. Those who are registered in the Democratic party will always vote Democratic, no matter what policies are brought forth because it is who they have always sided with. The same goes for voters of the Republican party. White working class voters will always vote Republican because of the policies that the party puts into place. It stems from the people’s idea of who they are and what they represent.

Party affiliation is a part of American identity. You are either red or blue, Republican or Democratic, or sometimes Independent, but you tend to lean one way or another. Race, religion, and ethnicity all tie into these parties because of the social and economic issues that they represent. While people are registered as one political party, they rarely switch, and mostly always vote in preference of their party. Most people do not wish to admit to this bias, but it has been repeated over the decades. In the rare occasion that voters do switch parties, it is due to the fact that the other party better represents the group that they identify with. 

Therefore, we have the inexplicable support that poor, white Americans have for Trump, even when his policies continue to make things worse for them. The healthcare policies that he enacted gives the poorer population less access to healthcare, and the tax cuts are more harmful to this class now more than ever. While Trump continues to hold rallies in Midwest states, it allows his supporters to gather in solidarity and feel a greater resentment and partisanship as a group. As long as the group of supporters still stand, then they will continue to support a President (and his policies) that go against their own social and economic interests. As the unethical things politicians are doing to keep their voters supporting them continue, it will be impossible to avoid this influence.

Political Polarization

Photo via phys.org

American politics have become extremely polarized over the years. People choose one political party and stick with its candidates and policies throughout their lifetime. The National Election Study shows that Republicans and Democrats are growing apart, each side increasing negative thoughts and emotions about the opposing party. These parties are a larger representation of specific groups and identities, which people often get attached to. 

When it comes down to voting, people want to stay true to who they are and vote for their party, even if it goes against their personal interest. It is more valuable for them to stick with their own identity than to vote against their own party. People are more likely going to vote based on emotion rather than on policy stance.

Voters may not be satisfied with the policies that their President enacts, but since he is still the leader of the pack, they will never turn their back on him since doing so will go against everything they feel they stand for. Betraying their President will be like betraying themselves. Until there is a Presidential nominee who stands as a leader for all the people, then the community will continue to see people vote against their own interests, simply so that they can support what their party means to them on an ideological level.

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