by Dan Lucas
When someone marks their ballot to vote for a Democratic candidate in Oregon, why do they do that? Obviously it’s because they feel that candidate will best represent their interests, their beliefs and their values, right? Well, based on a confidential in-depth look at voters in last fall’s election that I had the privilege to review, it really came down to voting for a candidate who would best represent their interests. Not so much concern on the beliefs and values.
Initially the Democratic voters in the study spoke of the importance of their social values, of their support of diversity etc. But deeper into the study, when it got down to the real-world choices they made when they actually voted, the voters chose their interests over their stated beliefs and values. And for nearly every Democratic voter in the study, their “interests” translated to pay checks or benefits they were receiving from the government, or to benefits they were hoping to receive from the government.
It was fascinating to observe the layers being peeled away. When presented with a real choice between a candidate who represented one of their clearly stated beliefs and values and one who didn’t, they chose the one who didn’t — because that candidate DID represent their interests. They voted for the candidate who they felt would work to make sure they got or kept getting their pay checks or benefits from the government.
When I did some research last year, I found that 1 in 6 Oregonians was on Medicaid, more than 1 in 5 Oregonians were on food stamps (the highest rate in the nation at the time) and 1 in 11 Oregonians in the work force was on unemployment.
Add to that the number of Oregonians who are on Social Security and Medicare, as well as PERS retirees. Then add the number of Oregonians who work for the government in Oregon at the federal, state, county and city level and for special agencies like Metro, and for schools — 290,000 as of August 2013, or about 1 in 6 of the 1.8 million employed Oregonians working for the government.
Combined that’s a large number of Oregonians who have an interest in making sure they keep getting their pay checks or benefits from the government.
That isn’t to say that government workers vote for Democrats or that people who receive some form of check from the government vote for Democrats, but based on the results of the study, those voters will be strongly influenced by what they view as their interests.
That also isn’t to say that all Oregonians who vote for Democrats are voting for their interests and not their beliefs and values, but it was the case for the voters in the study. It certainly went against the idealistic narrative I normally hear, and brought elections into a much more pragmatic realm.
The findings in the study I saw are not new. I’ve heard before that voters vote their pocketbooks, but I’d just never actually seen it. The stark contrast of voters voting for their interests over their stated beliefs and values was a surprise.