Why Are U.S. Voters Stupid?
By Staff News & Analysis - February 02, 2010

Political scientist Dr. David Runciman looks at why is there often such deep opposition to reforms that appear to be of obvious benefit to voters. Last year, in a series of "town-hall meetings" across the country, Americans got the chance to debate President Obama's proposed healthcare reforms. What happened was an explosion of rage and barely suppressed violence. Polling evidence suggests that the numbers who think the reforms go too far are nearly matched by those who think they do not go far enough. But it is striking that the people who most dislike the whole idea of healthcare reform – the ones who think it is socialist, godless, a step on the road to a police state – are often the ones it seems designed to help. In Texas, where barely two-thirds of the population have full health insurance and over a fifth of all children have no cover at all, opposition to the legislation is currently running at 87%. Instead, to many of those who lose out under the existing system, reform still seems like the ultimate betrayal. Why are so many American voters enraged by attempts to change a horribly inefficient system that leaves them with premiums they often cannot afford? Why are they manning the barricades to defend insurance companies that routinely deny claims and cancel policies? It might be tempting to put the whole thing down to what the historian Richard Hofstadter back in the 1960s called "the paranoid style" of American politics, in which God, guns and race get mixed into a toxic stew of resentment at anything coming out of Washington. – BBC

Dominant Social Theme: American voters are very interesting creatures. We must analyze them further.

Free-Market Analysis: The real title of this article is "Why do people often vote against their own interests?" It caught our eye because it seemed, well, a little bit patronizing. Even before reading it, just from the headline, we decided the BBC was asking the question based on the recent "upset" Republican victory in Democratic Massachusetts. Second, we decided the point of view was probably simplistic, especially within the larger context of Western democracy. Finally, we figured the article would reveal a liberal bias if we read through to the end.

Here's what we found: The article does indeed reference the Massachusetts electoral upset and from our point of view treats, as we expected, it in a patronizing way. The analysis of what is going on in America is indeed simplistic. And the liberal bias, from our point of view, was evident right where we expected, toward the end of the article.

Is it important to analyze this sort of thing? Of course! Seldom in the history of humankind, in our opinion, has Western leadership – and its media mouthpieces – been so alienated from the larger citizenry it purports to support and lead. Granted, one cannot draw too many conclusions from a single article, but the mindset that allowed this article to be produced and featured by the BBC is symptomatic of the chasm between those that attempt to shape British opinion and the growing "reality on the ground" in the 21st century. Here's some more:

Thomas Frank, the author of the best-selling book What's The Matter with Kansas, is an … exasperated Democrat. He believes that the voters' preference for emotional engagement over reasonable argument has allowed the Republican Party to blind them to their own real interests.

The Republicans have learnt how to stoke up resentment against the patronizing liberal elite, all those do-gooders who assume they know what poor people ought to be thinking.

Right-wing politics has become a vehicle for channeling this popular anger against intellectual snobs. The result is that many of America's poorest citizens have a deep emotional attachment to a party that serves the interests of its richest. Thomas Frank says that whatever disadvantaged Americans think they are voting for, they get something quite different: "You vote to strike a blow against elitism and you receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our life times, workers have been stripped of power, and CEOs are rewarded in a manner that is beyond imagining.

Thomas Frank thinks that voters have become blinded to their real interests "It's like a French Revolution in reverse in which the workers come pouring down the street screaming more power to the aristocracy."

As Mr. Frank sees it, authenticity has replaced economics as the driving force of modern politics. The authentic politicians are the ones who sound like they are speaking from the gut, not the cerebral cortex. Of course, they might be faking it, but it is no joke to say that in contemporary politics, if you can fake sincerity, you have got it made.

And the ultimate sin in modern politics is appearing to take the voters for granted. This is a culture war but it is not simply being driven by differences over abortion, or religion, or patriotism. And it is not simply Red states vs. Blue states any more. It is a war on the entire political culture, on the arrogance of politicians, on their slipperiness and lack of principle, on their endless deal making and compromises.

The passage above, coming toward the end of the article is, in our opinion, the real reason the article was written. The BBC generally is not a great fan of the American Republican Party and of "right wing" politics in general. The article's real thesis, from our point of view, is that "Americans are once again being lied to by the fascist right wing – which has learned to adopt an "authentic tone."

Poor BBC. They have got it wrong again. This is important because in the Age of the Internet, such propagandistic handiwork has ramifications. In fact, what is going on in America, thanks in large part to information available on the Internet, is that literally millions of people, many of them youngsters, have rediscovered classical liberalism and real republican values. The Tea Parties are an outgrowth of this discovery, though also of general American voter rage with the continued decline of civil society and living standards.

To answer the BBC's question, American voters ARE NOT voting against their interests, nor are they voting for "authenticity." What American voters are voting for increasingly is more freedom, less government, fewer taxes and a political system that is seen as working for the people rather than against them. President Barack Obama has misread the will of the voters and the "change" he was elected to provide.

The biggest and most powerful movement in the United States, as we have long predicted, is the classical liberal message of Congressman Ron Paul (R-Tex). Eventually, maybe sooner rather than later, his movement (with some 250,000 members) will have signed up one million members, making it the most powerful force for freedom in America since before the Civil War. The British – the BBC and even the Telegraph – are blithely ignoring the convulsive changes that are taking place in American political life.

In the 20th century, articles like the one above (when repeated over and over within the echo chamber of mainstream media) could reinterpret voter discontent and sow confusion about whatever was starting to take place from the perspective of pro-freedom movements. But thanks to the Internet pro-freedom movements in America already HAVE taken place and become increasingly available. Elite reinterpretations of what is occurring – such as the one we have examined today – do not look reasonable or persuasive anymore. Instead, they look increasingly loony.

After Thoughts

The conversation is shifting. Everything from various sociopolitical "conspiracy theories" to discussions over free-market gold and silver standards are inevitably going to shift as well. Here is the question of the day, dear reader. What happens when the larger sociopolitical frame of reference becomes one controlled by the "facts on the ground" rather than the dominant social themes that the power elite has successfully disseminated in the past? What happens when "dream time" of the past century gives way to the reality of the 21st century Internet era? What happens when average people begin to define their OWN reality rather than allowing it to be defined for them by massive elite promotions? It's already happening in America, and it will happen in Britain as well. Then the BBC will really have something to write about.