Conservative Voters Aren’t That Different

Conservative VotersI’ve long argued that conservative voters don’t actually think that differently from liberals. In my conversations with them, I find that we have an enormous amount of common ground. Where things get weird is that conservative voters have a strong tendency toward parochialism — or flat out racism. But in the context of their lives, they get what’s going on: the middle class is shrinking, wages are stagnant, and all of this is going on as the rich just get richer. The rich aren’t “job creators”; they are job destroyers, who take any extra economic efficiencies as profits for themselves. Conservative voters get that.

I want to be clear about this distinction, however: conservative voters, not conservative politicians and other elites. Ted Cruz may seem very authentic to the people who vote for him. But look at his tax plan. Is he looking out for the interests of middle class Americans? No. He talks the talk, but he walks the walk of the Republican establishment that is committed most of all to one thing: reducing taxes on the rich. The net effect of the entire Republican Party economic plan is to funnel money from the poor to the rich. This is not a plan that most conservative voters would be for if they knew.

Trump With FansWe all know how it is that the Republican Party gets the base to vote for it. It’s the same way that Donald Trump is doing it. After all, Donald Trump’s tax plan is even worse (pdf) than Cruz’s plan. But conservative voters are very easily distracted with mythical fears about an ISIS invasion and the horror of keeping fetuses alive so we can “harvest its brain.” So don’t take anything I say as meaning that Trump is any different from the Republican establishment.

What is different is that Trump terrifies the Republican establishment. And this has led to the remarkably vile Kevin Williamson article, The Father-Führer in National Review. A Jonathan Chait summed up the article, Conservatives to White Working Class: Drop Dead. This is tearing the Republican Party apart.

What Conservative Voters Believe

Digby brought my attention to an article in Breitbart, A Rebuttal to National Review’s Claim that White Working Class Communities Deserve to Die. Tell me if the following quote couldn’t have been written by me:

This is not the fault of those who lived in those towns that depended upon local manufacturing that was shipped overseas, it is the fault of the government policy that put into place the environment where closing local mills in North Carolina made more economic sense than keeping them open.

Obviously, I would dive deeper and note that the issue isn’t so much the moving of plants but that government policy has allowed the rich to keep all the gains from these moves — and more. The Breitbart writer goes on to rant about environmental regulations, as though that’s what’s actually going on. It is, after all, the Breitbart party that has pushed for lower taxes on the wealthy and government benefit cuts on the poor and middle class. But clearly, Breitbart is closer to the conservative voters than National Review — or Ted Cruz.

Of course, it’s all very funny to watch. There are some Trump voters who have been screwed by the economy. But that isn’t what’s going on for the most part. As Jonathan Bernstein noted last week, Good Times, Not Anger, Led to Trump’s Rise. The truth is, things are good enough for angry conservative voters to say, “Screw it!” They’ve been told by the Republican establishment that Obama has done nothing but destroy the United States over the last eight years. Is it surprising that they would go with someone who seems like a radical? As Bernstein concluded:

Overall, however, the Obama years haven’t resulted in recession, soaring inflation, or a foreign misadventure with major American casualties — in other words, anything that produces serious political reaction. Barring that, an entertainment version of politics has some appeal. And Trump puts on a good show.

But I actually do think that Trump voters see that the nation is out of balance. Of course, like conservative voters always seem to do, they vote for exactly what they claim to be against. I mean, really: they see the middle class being destroyed by sleazy billionaires so they want to elect the sleaziest billionaire? But that’s all part of the game. Trump tells them all the problems of the American worker is do to the Mexicans and the Chinese. But the fact remains: conservative voters aren’t that different from liberal voters in that they see what is happening to the American worker. They just can’t seem to engage with it on a rational level.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

14 thoughts on “Conservative Voters Aren’t That Different

    • I’ve been developing this idea of why, for example, Todd Akin lost his bid for the Senate. I think what happens is that a lot of people vote thinking in the vaguest of terms. And when someone says something that stupid, it forces the voters to focus.

      But I don’t believe in unaffiliated voters. Studies show they don’t exist. And my own experience is that people are usually unaffiliated because they are radicals: too conservative to call themselves Republicans or too liberal to call themselves Democrats. I would put myself in that category except that I’ve made a principled stand that in a two party system you can’t make a show of purity. I’m on the left wing of the Democratic Party. But the vast majority of Americans are dependably partisan, regardless how much they claim to be “independent.”

      • Oh my god yes…and they lecture us partisans as if they are somehow immune to being partisan.

        The other thing is that they don’t make any effort to find out what the political process is so every four years the state parties here in AZ get a slew of angry phone calls when someone find out they had to re-register to vote in the Presidential Preference Primary (unlike the regular primary Independents can vote in, which in my never humble opinion should also be closed. If you don’t want to join, you don’t get to vote to determine who the nominee is.)

        Most independent voters don’t pay attention to most things about politics until last minute and then expect you, the partisan they are insulting for being partisan, to tell them literally everything about all issues in five minutes. And be nice while you are being insulted for belonging to one side or the other.


        • Although I do think people who don’t pay attention to politics are probably happier and more healthy than we are.

          I’m more interested in the independent as extremist. It seems to be more common on the right: people so conservative they refuse to call themselves Republicans, even though they always vote Republican. And such people usually are very pretentious about open minded they are — just following the facts

    • Yeah, I read about Cruz’s main man. But we didn’t really expect anything different.

      I heard that the article was such a hit that NRO put it out in public. I don’t care. Williamson is a vile guy. I’ve written about him many times in the past.

  1. OK — read the Breitbart article. It is interesting. The stuff about environmental regulations is pure bullhonky, but the rest is good. I wonder if our friend Thomas Frank has seen that article, it’s right up his alley.

    Environmental regulations had little or nothing to do with the decline of Northwest logging. Environmental laws and activists saved some old-growth trees. If logging companies had been able to take down those trees, they still would have fled to South America. Logging companies had pretty much free run of the National Forests, and they still left to find cheaper labor.

    I vividly remember attending the super-liberal U of Oregon in Eugene, and reading about a logging company in Heppner, OR that was closing operations. They owned their logging land, and knew how to reforest so they could cut trees for lumber basically forever. So why was the company going down? A takeover by outside investors who sold the land for development and the equipment for spare parts. Better $10 million today than $1 million a year for 30 years, right?

    Of course the investors were lifestyle liberals from Eugene. Of course they were. And of course there’s still a logging industry in the Northwest. But nowadays it doesn’t pay for shit. And that’s not the fault of tree huggers or endangered owls.

    Why coal is dying, you’ve already mentioned. And it also has jack shit to do with environmental legislation.

    • It just means that the liberals get punished for it because environmentalism is associated with liberals and Democrats so the second they mention trying to preserve the land for longer than a generation, the Republicans start screeching about how it is all going to take jobs.

      Meanwhile the Republicans flat out do whatever they want. One of my friends tried to find a Republican who lost his job over approval of NAFTA and not one of them was punished electorally. The Democrats? That is another story.

    • It’s amazing that we’ve watched most of these industries die for economic and technological reasons, but suddenly it is the fault of the environmentalist. Coals jobs are nothing now because of the way coal is mined. Of course, none of that matters. People still need jobs and lives. It’s just so annoying that they can’t see who the actual people harming them are. Follow the money, you jerks!

  2. So the part I don’t understand is that while liberals are like conservatives if you show a liberal and a conservative a plutocrat strangling his valet the liberal will shriek “Damn you, you bloated capitalist swine” the conservative will roar “Damn those tree-hugging environmentalist bastards!”

    EXACTLY alik…wait. What?

    • That’s kind of it. I’m amazed how conservatives tend to live in a fantasy land. You see that a lot in terms of the environment. Conservatives are often very concerned about particular environmental issues, but they will never call themselves “environmentalist” because that means “hippy” to them. There’s a lot of conservatism that seems to be stuck in the late-60s. Among the elites, conservatism is the most ideological movement. But among the voters, it’s 90% tribalism.

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