Monday, January 7, 2008

Myths about voters

Whether you're arguing with friends or watching the news, you hear many claims about how American democracy works that just aren't true.

1. People vote their self-interest.

In fact, there is only the tiniest correlation between income and party. The country is not divided into two camps: the poor, who vote Democrat, and the rich, who vote Republican. If you consider your own experiences, this is hardly surprising: Are your rich friends really Republicans and your poor friends Democrats?

Self-interest is also a bad predictor of views about specific issues. Yes, the elderly heavily support Social Security and Medicare, but so does almost everyone else. The old bumper sticker says, "If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament," but men are actually slightly more pro-choice than women. And so on.


5. Voters want serious change.

Nonsense. Public opinion data strongly confirm that the status quo is popular. All the big components of the federal budget enjoy broad support. When asked whether government should do less of something, more of something or stick with the status quo, the average American almost always sticks with what he has.

The only iron-clad counter-example is foreign aid. Most Americans have wanted less of it for decades. But since foreign aid is about 1 percent of the federal budget, we can safely call it the exception that proves the rule.
--Bryan Caplan, Washington Post, on how we really vote

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