Fri, Nov 02, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Why the US poor are willing to vote Republican

In a country reeling from economic meltdown, where race and class are issues ingrained into the collective psyche, voting patterns reveal a polarized, and at times highly misinformed, electorate

By Gary Younge  /  The Guardian, Sarasota, Florida

Illustration: Mountain People

Tracey Owings is fighting hard to keep the home that has been in his family for 34 years. In 2000, his mother refinanced. In 2006, she died. In 2009, he lost his job and had no paid work for nine months. He fell behind with the mortgage. The bank moved to foreclose on the house. Gradually, the work came back. Less than before. Much less. However, it was just enough. The house is not in negative equity and now he can make the payments. However, he cannot get the bank to take his money. Attempts to modify the loan and take advantage of a settlement brokered by the White House between mortgage companies and the US Department of Justice have come to nought.

“I don’t qualify,” he said, detailing with exasperation his efforts to meet each bureaucratic challenge and his frustration at each bureaucratic obstacle.

He stands in the waiting room of Gulfcoast Legal Services offices in Sarasota with an armful of documents and a belly full of bile.

“They have failed me,” he says. “[US President Barcack] Obama came in offering hope and change, but he’s failed. I just want to save my mother’s house.”

Owings is voting for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Does he think Romney will improve his lot?

“I’m willing to try anything at this point,” he said.

There is nothing more vexing to liberals than poor Republicans. Their very existence rankles. It turns their world on its head and their assumptions inside out. The effort to explain them is understood not just as a political paradox, but a psychological disorder. They have been duped. They must have been. How else would one explain putting your cross next to the man who derided them as “victims” among the 47 percent “I don’t worry about.”

To many liberals these are turkeys voting for Christmas or lemmings off for a leap; the condemned tying the noose for their own execution.

At times the contradictions are striking. In August 2009, when opponents of Obamacare were disrupting town hall meetings with claims of death panels, Kenneth Gladney and other members of the St Louis Tea Party got into a fight with Democrats at a public meeting. He had to go to the emergency room with injuries to his knee, back, elbow, shoulder and face and ended up in a wheelchair. It turned out Gladney, who had recently been laid off, had no health insurance. He appealed for donations.

Trace a map highlighting government dependency and those most reliant on benefits live in Republican states and often Republican counties. In Floyd County in eastern Kentucky, 40 percent of the income comes from the US government. In 2008, Floyd, where almost 20 percent of residents live below the poverty line and the median income is almost 20 percent lower than the US national average, voted for the then-Republican presidential candidate, US Senator John McCain — a 27 point swing against the Democrats and the first victory for Republicans in living memory.

“We’re getting more and more people coming here as time goes by,” Tom Price, who helps administer a food bank for the local church told me when I visited Floyd a year after Obama was elected. “The bottom’s just fallen out of it all. Is there a direct correlation [between Obama’s victory and the region’s bad times]? I don’t know. But I do know a lot of people are hurting.”

Of the 10 states with the lowest median household income, 9 backed John McCain. (The one exception is New Mexico, which Bush won in 2004).

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