Fundamental Contradictions in America Voter Behavior

I read an interesting article my old friend Professor Jonathan Haidt of New York University which had this memorable paragraph about the Republican voting patterns: 

“What makes people vote Republican? Why in particular do working class and rural Americans usually vote for pro-business Republicans when their economic interests would seem better served by Democratic policies? We psychologists have been examining the origins of ideology ever since Hitler sent us Germany’s best psychologists, and we long ago reported that strict parenting and a variety of personal insecurities work together to turn people against liberalism, diversity, and progress. But now that we can map the brains, genes, and unconscious attitudes of conservatives, we have refined our diagnosis: conservatism is a partially heritable personality trait that predisposes some people to be cognitively inflexible, fond of hierarchy, and inordinately afraid of uncertainty, change, and death. People vote Republican because Republicans offer “moral clarity”—a simple vision of good and evil that activates deep seated fears in much of the electorate. Democrats, in contrast, appeal to reason with their long-winded explorations of policy options for a complex world.”

He then goes on to demolish this argument in interesting ways: here is the full article: http://edge.org/conversation/what-makes-vote-republican

This prompted me for some thoughts of my own on the contradictions of the US political system on the subject of government spending and government taxes. It would appear that most Americans really dislike paying taxes, more than any other country I know personally. In other countries people might moan about taxes but see a reason for them. In America this anti tax attitude is coupled with a love of government programs: Social Security, Medicare, Military spending. And this contradiction has given rise to a paradox. Democratic administrations typically spend more on social programs over time, and Republicans add to this by spending more on the military. Meanwhile Republicans do everything in their power to reduce taxes, eroding the basis for the spending, unless of course you like deficits which they profess not to. In reality the last Republican President to balance the budget was President Eisenhower in 1953-61, while the last Democratic President to balance the budget was President Clinton in 1993-2001. So we have spiralling deficits and deep contradictions in the party line of the Republicans as the latter demolish the tax base and both parties keep on spending….though over the last 65 year with the Democrats running smaller deficits until the recent financial crash where the deficit spiralled up largely because of dramatically reduced tax receipts and increased unemployment spending: both automatic counter cyclical stabilizers.

In passing, I would note that President Eisenhower balanced the budget by slashing military spending by 20%, not bad for a former General. And he had a rule that when conservative members of his party came to him demanding tax cuts. He said: sure I will cut taxes in the year following your showing me the reduced spending that justifies the tax cuts. No Laffer Curve bs for him.

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About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
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3 Responses to Fundamental Contradictions in America Voter Behavior

  1. Michael Walsh says:

    I read the article by Jon Haidt. One thing he said kept tripping me up. “The Democrats could close much of the gap if they simply learned to see society not just as a collection of individuals—each with a panoply of rights–but as an entity in itself, an entity that needs some tending and caring.” I see the Republican Party increasingly as the party of “rugged individualism,” the party that wants to glorify Hobbes’ “war of all against all.” They have a very narrow definition of Durkheim’s “ingroup.” It stops long before “multiculturalism” rears its head. The differing moralities seem to me to be chessmen in a cynical game of words designed to trump the other guy, an issue that JH has also written quite well about, basically that human beings will find a way to rationalize whatever it is that they want to do or believe. At basis, moralities sit on the surface. I found the recent statement by Joni Ernst not a heartfelt expression of a different morality, but rather a statement of “what conservatives can learn from JH to bolster their arguments”: “And in the years since I was a small girl up until now into my adulthood with children of my own, we have lost a reliance on not only our own families, but so much of what our churches and private organizations used to do. They used to have wonderful food pantries. They used to provide clothing for those that really needed it. But we have gotten away from that. Now we’re at a point where the government will just give away anything.”

    • @Michael Walsh. Thanks I tend to agree. I think Jon Haidt helped me understand the moral foundations of conservatism but I think you are right the American version has moved beyond the moral foundations in some ways, many not that healthy. Personally I also think that the combination of their moral foundations tends to drive towards social dominance structures that tend to kiss up to authority and kick down to the oppressed and the rugged individualism is a funny mixture of in group and individual.

      • Michael Walsh says:

        I feel certain that JH would have some answer to the discrepancy I perceive. I am so impressed by the elephant/rider metaphor–similar to Freud’s “the ego is not master of his own house”–that seems to me places his foundational moralities with the elephant–that I just don’t understand how the moralities–and probably all of them–seem to get a pass–as if a reference to them gives a person an unassailable position. I see them as artifacts of the rationalization process, reflections (possibly) of something more basic–emotional reactions deriving from the most basic emotional reaction–disgust. Based on the elephant/rider metaphor, we should probably elucidate the emotions which are the basis for the moralities, the emotions which drive human perception, which never has unfettered access to reality, the emotions which use rationalization to justify the emotions to others. I’m not sure where this idea takes us. Do we human beings have just a war of emotions taking place, upon which we build a superstructure of moralities and tenets of civilization and cultural constraints? I don’t know, but I do know that I just can’t be satisfied with creating a sales pitch which tries to appeal to moralities which are themselves rationalizations.

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