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

“They don’t give a shit about us,” she said. “They’re all rich people and they’re all run by corporations. They don’t care about the fact that I need surgery and can’t pay for it.”

“You want to let Bush back in and make things even worse?” her friend Gladys Pollard asked.

“Worse than what?” Huntington said. “Kerry’s not going to get me my operation.”

She did vote for Kerry.

When liberals depict the existence of poor white Republicans as an expression of mass idiocy and false consciousness, they not only disparage poor white people, they provide conservatives with one of their key talking points which is that liberals are elitists who look down on poorer whites. The condescension is reminiscent of the musings of Ignatius J. Reilly, the hapless protagonist of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, regarding African Americans’ apparent conservatism: “In a sense I have always felt something of a kinship with the colored race because its position is the same as mine. We both exist outside the inner realm of American society. Of course, my exile is voluntary. However, it is apparent that many of the Negroes wish to become active members of the American middle class. I cannot imagine why. I must admit that this desire on their part leads me to question their value judgments. However, if they wish to join the bourgeoisie, it is really none of my business. They may seal their own doom.”

All that said, there are still some basic facts to contend with that do suggest many Republican voters believe things that are either misinformed or absurd or both. Since the last election the number of Republicans who believe Obama is a Muslim has doubled; in 2010 a poll showed that about two-thirds of Republicans either believe or are not sure that Obama is “a racist who hates white people,” and more than half believe or are not sure that he was not born in the US and that he wants the terrorists to win. Earlier this year a Dartmouth poll revealed that 63 percent of Republicans still believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. A poll last year revealed that one-quarter of Republicans believed a community rights organization called Acorn would try to steal the election for Obama, while 31 percent were not sure whether it would or not. There was precious little chance of that because Acorn no longer existed at that stage. It was defunded and disbanded after a successful sting operation by conservatives a few years earlier.

Where breakdowns of these falsehoods exist, those with less education are more likely to believe them. However, assuming they are evenly spread among poor and rich, it would be fair to say that a significant number of Americans are working off faulty facts that would affect their vote. After all, if Obama really did want terrorists to win, hated white people and stole the election then it would be logical not to vote for him regardless of your race and income.

Furthermore, most of these explanations regarding deeply held religious beliefs, class aspiration and political philosophy are no less of non-whites than whites. Blacks and Latinos are both poorer and more religious than the nation at large and vote overwhelmingly Democrat. While racism may not be the primary motivating force behind poorer whites tendency to vote Republican it is certainly a factor.

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