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Voters: Not So Stupid?- James Kwak- The Baseline Scenario

This is a syndicated repost courtesy of The Baseline Scenario. To view original, click here. Reposted with permission.

By James Kwak

In July, a New York Times article on Priorities USA Action mentioned a focus group in which participants refused to believe that any presidential candidate could be in favor of “ending Medicare as we know it” (replacing guaranteed coverage with vouchers that will pay for an unknown percentage of guaranteed coverage) and tax cuts for the rich. At the time, I called this no less than “the problem with American politics.” 

But perhaps the problem isn’t so bad. Here are some results from recent Times/Quinnipiac polls of swing states (click on the image for a bigger version):


So, I must admit, a majority of voters realize that Mitt Romney’s policies will favor the rich. They know what’s going on. However you define them, the rich are a small minority of the population. Yet he remains within striking distance of Barack Obama in those states.

Logically speaking, there are a few main possibilities:

  • Many Americans think they will be rich someday, or their children well. I recall being insulted by a listener to a radio call-in show saying that she was unemployed but we shouldn’t raise taxes on the rich because she wanted her daughter to have a jet someday. (Empirically speaking, however, we now have lower social mobility than the typical Western European “social democracy.”)
  • Many Americans think that, as a matter of principle, we should have policies that favor the rich, even though they are not themselves rich. Call it “rewarding success.”
  • Many Americans are voting for Romney in full knowledge that his economic policies will not help them, either because of so-called “social issues” or because they just hate Barack Obama that much.

I’m not sure which of the possibilities is most discouraging.

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