A new USA Today/Gallup poll shows almost as many Americans support the tea party agenda (27%) as support President Obama’s (28%). “[T]his shows that the intelligence level of the average American has dropped as they are picking a group that is going against their best interest,” writes a TPM reader. Gee, thanks. (More)
I’m just a squirrel researching a thesis in 21st Century Political Nuttitude, but when research shows self-interest is a weak motivator, maybe it’s time to question the intelligence of those who stubbornly deny the science of what motivates voters. Yes, we consider self-interest in voting, but that doesn’t dominate our decisions. We base our decisions more on aspirational interest: Who I Want To Be.
For example, the same USA Today/Gallup poll showed more Americans think Congress must not raise the estate tax for millionaires (56%) as think Congress must extend unemployment benefits (48%). That makes no sense in terms of Who I Am. Americans are far more likely to need unemployment benefits than to be heirs to estates over $1 million. But consider Who I Want To Be. Few of us like to imagine ourselves needing unemployment benefits. Many of us like to imagine ourselves heirs to a million-dollar estate. Seen through that particular lens of Who I Want To Be, it’s rational that ordinary Americans wouldn’t want to raise the estate tax on millionaires.
Does this mean we progressives should ignore the unemployed and focus on the interests of millionaires? No. It means we shouldn’t argue for policies based solely on self-interest. And if we do argue for policies based solely on self-interest, we shouldn’t be surprised when we lose.
Instead, we should argue for extending unemployment benefits because Real Americans don’t let each other starve. We should argue for taxing the estates of millionaires because People matter more than profits. Such values-based arguments also appeal to Who I Want To Be, in terms of moral rather than economic identity. We want to be good people – when an issue is framed in moral terms – and we’ll weigh that more heavily than our aspiration to be a millionaire … and far more heavily than we’ll weigh real economic self-interest.
Insisting voters should weigh economic self-interest over all is like insisting human CO2 emissions have no relationship to global climate change. Both are wishes contrary to evidence. Progressives should embrace science, not deny it.
Or maybe I’m just cranky. Again.