This is why Kevin Drum is still my first stop on the web:
This gets to an issue I’ve long had with the whole “voting against their economic interests” argument: I don’t think it’s true. Seriously now, try to answer this question in a concrete way: if you were an average joe in a rural part of the South or the Midwest, how would it help you to vote for a Democrat? What would you get out of it?
A higher minimum wage? Maybe, but even in the rural South most people already make more than the minimum wage. Medicare and Social Security? They already exist. Money for roads? Republicans do that too. More labor friendly laws? That doesn’t resonate much in the South, and in any case they probably don’t believe that Dems can deliver on that anyway.
So exactly what economic interests are they voting against? Forget the Krugmanesque (or Drumesque) arguments about regressive taxes or rising income inequality. They may be true, but they’re way too abstract. If you want to convince these guys that their economic interests lie with Democrats, we need to offer them something real: local clinics, free healthcare, tax rebates, something. Right now, I don’t think these voters believe that Democrats are actually promising anything that would make a genuine difference in their lives.
In other words, it’s not that values have drowned out the economic arguments, it’s that no one’s even making the economic arguments in language that means anything to these guys. Until we start, we’ll never really know for sure whether or not values trump economics, will we?
Anyone whose talked politics with me over the past few years has heard some version of this argument, but I don’t feel I’ve ever put it so well. The only major difference in how I usually phrase the argument is that I emphasize the vertical relationships that tie the Republican party to people in these states. Religious institutions are a big part of it, but they are far from the whole story. Personal links to those in a vertical chain to the ruling party is one way that people seek to secure their economic interests.
Even if they never personally benefit from various client-patron relationships, I believe people feel their interests are more economically secure if they have such vertical links. Unions used to be one way that people were linked up to the Democratic party, but that is hardly the case any more. Whiteness was a way that they used to be linked to the Democratic party, but the Republicans have taken that from the Dems. What is left?