Why Do Americans Vote Against Their Self-Interest?

Why do some people vote against policies that would improve their well-being?

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Shortly before Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s election, a friend of mine and I were discussing student loan forgiveness. He argued that since he took out a loan and signed his name, he should be solely responsible for paying it back. I claimed that under normal circumstances, I would agree. Still, given the pandemic’s course, the uncertainty of my job, I wanted to reduce as much debt as possible. He voted for Donald J. Trump, who had no long-term policy to address student loans. I voted for Joe Biden, who did have a strategy to reduce student loan debt. I did agree that while I signed the loan, I would have to do my part to pay it back. To ease my debt, I got a second job working as an auto-detailer. It doesn’t pay much, but it helps reduce my debt. However, I wasn’t about to vote for the guy who did not care about my interest, i.e., Donald Trump, so I thought to myself, then why did he vote against his interest?

Millions of Americans vote against their interest every single election cycle. In the United States, 9/10 poorest states resign in the southern part of the US. Mississippi is the most impoverished state in the US, with Arkansas and Kansas following right behind it. The southern states typically drag behind in things such as wages and access to healthcare. These southern states such as Alabama, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Mississippi have higher poverty rates than many other states in the US. Some of these states aforementioned have poverty rates higher than 15%. Poverty leads to many development issues in children, limits access to nutritional food and education.

The question remains: Why do these folks who live in these southern states continue to vote against their interest when it comes to improving their community? Why do they vote for politicians that do next to nothing to solve issues in their community?

I had to revisit a book I read back in college to start digging. “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” by Thomas Frank. His argument made sense; those on the right are triggered by cultural issues such as gun rights, abortion, and rallying against the ‘liberal elite.’ With those on the right so passionate about these issues, Republican candidates can run on this cultural platform and ignore their impoverished communities’ harsh realities. Once in office, they push for benefits and perks for the large corporations contributing to their campaign. These candidates focus very little time on improving their state. For example, look at Mitch McConnell and his state of Kentucky.

Additionally, the GOP politicians always have to have a boogeyman to gaslight their audience. If the nation wants to enforce gun control, then it’s communism; if most of the population wants affordable and quality healthcare, then it’s socialism; if someone opposes Trump, they’re apart of the deep state. The GOP needs a boogeyman to rile up their base because they cannot legitimize themselves based on the merits of their contribution to the communities. Focusing on the issues means focusing on their inadequacies as a political party and as a candidate.

In 2017 Donald Trump passed a tax bill that benefited the economy in the short-term, and we did see economic growth. The President touted that he had given the largest tax cut in the countries history. Still, a majority of Americans failed to read the fine print. The large corporations with lobbying power received the most benefits of the tax cuts, and average Americans will benefit until 2021. Average Americans will be stuck with the bill and will see a spike in the amount of taxes that they will have to pay over the life of Trump’s tax cuts. This bill did negligible for small businesses and robbed more wealth out of the hallowing middle and working class. Yet in 2020, 75 million Americans voted for Donald Trump.

However, I also thought about our hyper-globalized economy. Businesses and jobs can pack up overnight on a whim and take their careers elsewhere. Usually to another country that has fewer taxes, typically more human rights violations, and poverty wages. Fear is a powerful human emotion that could also explain why people tend to vote against their interests. Suppose you’re a politician representing a district in the south. In that case, you’re less likely to vote in favor of increasing the minimum wage. If you’re a person concerned about their job, you may not vote for a candidate that wants an increase in the minimum wage. However, you will continue to live in poverty and an impoverished community. You will have little access to healthcare, low economic mobility, and use government assistance. Corporations leverage this power against communities whenever they violate the law, human rights, or labor laws.

In Greeley, Colorado, JBS Beef plants have received widespread criticism for their poor handling of Covid outbreaks in their plants. After the outbreak, two people that screened employees said that the company was negligent and the owners did not take screening protocols seriously. The company did not pay for any testing and ‘encouraged’ workers to work even if they were sick. Six employees would eventually die from the outbreak. There was little pressure to hold JBS accountable from the Weld County government to the average Weld County resident. The political figures in charge of leadership will most likely be re-elected.

Fear and manipulation are why so many Americans vote against their interest. They continue to vote for candidates ignorant of economic issues in their community, who do not bring actual policy changes to their community, and vote for candidates that they think will bring about their ‘cultural victory.’ The Supreme Court will always support some moderation of gun control and some freedoms to women receiving abortions. So they’re voting for candidates that cannot provide what they want. It is just a ‘hook’ that GOP candidates use to fire up their base. It cannot be stressed enough that the United States has fallen behind in solving their communities’ issues compared to their other democratic counterparts. Acknowledging that those countries have problems as well, it cannot be understated how far behind the US is. In education, healthcare, social justice, wages, and, more recently, the COVID-19 outbreak. The negligence of the Republican party has cost 430k lives to the pandemic, millions of Americans thrown into poverty, and one of the worst responses to the pandemic in modern history.

On a national level, most Americans desire access to affordable healthcare, stricter gun control, investment in education, access to childcare, and increased minimum wage. On state levels, we’re starting to see a shift toward more ‘liberal’ policies. Such as citizens in Florida voting to raise their minimum wage while voting for Donald J. Trump in 2020. The nation wants to move forward into a more civilized age. Still, the minority Republican party seems determined to prevent any advancement toward a healthier community and Republic.



GM. Degree in political science. Grad student. Avid coffee drinker.

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Marcus Cervantes

GM. Degree in political science. Grad student. Avid coffee drinker.