Why Do Citizens Vote Against Their Own Best Interests?

"As someone once said, if as citizens in a democratic society we don't pay attention, we wind up with the government we deserve." (Photo: Cameron Nordholm/flickr/cc)

Why Do Citizens Vote Against Their Own Best Interests?

It seems that Barack Obama can't win for losing.

That was reflected in a New York Times story a few days ago. Reporter Abby Goodnough traveled to Kentucky to check up on the interesting race between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Grimes. McConnell is having a surprisingly tough fight in his bid for re-election, but Grimes is still considered a longshot to beat him.

An interview with a 49-year-old Kentucky woman named Robin Evans helps explain why.

Goodnough asked Evans, who works as a warehouse packer for $9 an hour, what she thought about the Affordable Care Act or, as most people know it, Obamacare. Like thousands of Kentuckians, Evans had signed up for the new health care plan last fall. The state's uninsured rate fell from 20.4 percent to 11.9 as Kentucky became one of the leading states in getting the uninsured covered under Obamacare.

"I'm tickled to death with it," said Evans, who is being treated for high blood pressure and an autoimmune disorder. "It's helped me out a bunch," she said, adding that now she can see a doctor regularly and get her medications filled.

Nevertheless, when asked who she would vote for in the Senate election, she said it would be McConnell. And that, according to the Times story, isn't rare in Kentucky these days.

McConnell, of course, is one of the dozens of Republicans who have demonized Obamacare and have pledged to get rid of it. "Pull it out root and branch," the Kentucky senator has remarked.

Still, that's not enough to cause those who want to keep the health plan to turn away from rock-ribbed opponents like the Senate minority leader.

"Born and raised Republican," she said of herself. "I ain't planning on changing now."

Hers is not an unusual story. Citizens tend to get caught up in everything from family traditions to believing blatantly misleading 30-second TV ads, leading them to vote in favor of candidates who are opposed to their own interests.

Here in Wisconsin, the nonpartisan government watchdog group, Common Cause, has spent the past several months contacting candidates for state offices this fall to get them to take a stand on redistricting reform. Common Cause, like a lot of good government groups, wants candidates to pledge that if elected they will work to take the task of redrawing political districts away from the politicians and give it to a nonpartisan commission.

Leaving the job to the politicians has resulted in some of the most noncompetitive Assembly, state Senate and U.S. Congress races in the nation.

At the end of September, some 40 candidates for the Assembly, 14 for the state Senate and five for statewide office, including gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, have signed the pledge.

Except for a handful of Libertarian candidates, they are all Democratic candidates. Not one single Republican has dared to sign the pledge for fear of upsetting their party's leadership, which remains steadfastly against turning the job over to a nonpartisan board.

Polls show that Wisconsin voters are solidly in favor of taking redistricting away from the grubby hands of the politicians, just as they are in favor of doing something to stop the huge flow of money that is essentially buying campaigns and politicians these days.

But if people won't pay attention to the beliefs of those politicians when deciding how to vote, nothing is ever going to change.

If you like Obamacare and want to keep it, it's best not to vote for Mitch McConnell or, in our neck of the woods, Paul Ryan. If you want to make our political districts more competitive so the people have a fighting chance to decide who should get elected, then don't vote for someone who refuses to even consider changing the system.

As someone once said, if as citizens in a democratic society we don't pay attention, we wind up with the government we deserve.

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