Four propositions about conservative voting

Here are four propositions about voting behavior which, as far as I can tell, have been true in nearly all democratic countries for at least the past 50 years. Other things equal, people are more likely to vote for conservative parties if:

  • They have higher incomes
  • They have lower education
  • They live in rural areas or small towns
  • They are members of a dominant racial/religious group

By contrast, lot of commentary on recent electoral losses for the left seems to start from the presumption that “traditional” left voters have all of these characteristics, except perhaps high incomes. However, since these “traditional” voters are “aspirational”, it is assumed that they will vote in line with the income they wish they had. Given the actual preferences of voters like this, the obvious inference is that the left should adopt the policies of the right.

There are lots of correlations between these variables that make for a complex story. Most notably, education and income are positively correlated and work in opposite directions. Here’s an illustration from the US.

For a long time, income effects were dominant so that more educated voters tended to vote conservative. As culture war issues have become more central, income effects have weakened and more educated voters tend to vote for left parties.

The conservatism of rural and small town voters, even those with low incomes, has been a problem for the left for ever since the term “left” was coined with reference to the seating position of the Jacobins in the French revolutionary assembly.

The same is true of voters who identify, because of shared race or religion, with the dominant group, as with Southern whites and evangelical Protestants in the US. This affiliation becomes stronger when dominance is threatened.

23 thoughts on “Four propositions about conservative voting

  1. That is some excellent research. Well done. Still does not explain why many voters make their minds at the last minute but I suspect that has more to do with inertia voting patterns.

  2. I think fear is a significant factor, fear of missing out, of being left behind. For many progress is full of fears, known and unknown, so memes of retro and heritage are attractive and any attempts at critical analysis that challenges the collective memory of historical events can be met with hostility.

    All this makes it harder for progressives to move on.

  3. The right has persuaded low income voters to vote for them on social issues ever since there has been voting. Without this, the poorest 51% would vote for a left wing party who would away the richest 49%’s money and give it to the poorest 51%,

    Obviously this explanation is overly simple but it has a lot of truth to it.

  4. You can’t lead from behind” ― James Longstreet.

    Given that our political leaders lag behind the times, lag behind the sciences and lag behind public attitudes and demands it’s no wonder they can’t lead. Of course, they consider that the system and they themselves have already “arrived”. Everything is perfect just the way it is. No need for change or leadership. They have perfected the art of staying off message when it comes to climate signals. Stay off message, never talk about climate change, record heatwaves or record bush-fire seasons.

  5. Smith9, do you really think this ‘representative’ democracy scam works that way even with compulsory voting. Do you realistically think that money would ever follow to the poorest 51% whatever party they vote for? Follow the money alright! Who represents that poorest 51% and what’s in it for them? Perhaps a revolution rather than a vote may do it, but sadly they are usually coopted by money interests in short order too.

  6. This says too me that voting is about money and culture. An economically populist but culturally conservative Labor leader should do quite well e.g. Kevin Rudd.

  7. It doesn’t matter what we theorize or opine. We can’t change anything for the better in this system. Now, if we could radically change to a new system we might stand a chance. The chances of radical change are zero in this system until full system collapse commences in a manifest way and is obvious to all. Our current system is completely sclerotic. It is not capable of endogenous (internally driven) change. Only when natural and biological disasters come to immediately threaten the lives and property of hundreds of thousands or millions of ordinary people will people’s thinking change enough to switch from conservative to radical.

  8. The sad thing is that these voting habits have persisted even while conservatie politicians have gone batshit crazy. The anti- immigration stuff has some tenuous connection to reality in the form of the prejudices of dominant-group voters, but the climate denialism, plutocracy-abetting and austerity worship are just nuts.

  9. The example below is from Australia to Brexit. The megaphone of “the dark arts of contemporary information warfare.”

    Yes, money, older and less education skews conservative.

    And, Lib Lab Grn or rainbow, rich poor capitalist socialist ist or ism… lose the information war and you are well ot your way to toast. I’d like to see these as strong /weak nuclear forces. If you have a big base you have lots of weak gravity. Think of these young’uns below as dropping rocks into you orbit [bubble] nudging you towards “home” [party / candidate]. If ‘home’ dominance is threatened, you feel the microgravity of these memes all the more.

    JQ said “This affiliation becomes stronger when dominance is threatened” AND enhanced when targeted by fear uncertainty and doubt which makes for #9…

    9) Win at information warfare.

    “… their methods – methods relying heavily on short and deliberately misleading graphics on social media. Their messages were about “property tax”, “retirement tax”, “car tax”, and repetitions of Morrison’s meaningless (but effective) mantra – messages that can be taken in, but not considered or analysed, in the 1.7 seconds the average Facebook user spends on each post. (Reader warning – graphic depiction of lies.) [Subliminal]

    “The video is more than just a recap of a successful political marketing campaign, it’s a guided tour of the dark arts of contemporary information warfare.”

    “This is the single most important point: the best social media strategy is water dripping on a stone. You’ve got to be pushing the same consistent message day-in, day-out,” he said.

    “In Australia, the main anti-Labor “dripping water” message was, according to Guerin, that “Bill Shorten is the bill Australia can’t afford”.
    https://abc.net.au/news/2019-11-08/topham-guerins-boomer-meme-industrial-complex/11682116

    “Could boomer memes win election campaigns? | ABC News

    The dark arts of contemporary information warfare…
    ” Friedman 19 // Using Social Media Effectively

  10. The anti immigration stuff is very real if you can’t afford to buy a home, get stuck in traffic, find your favourite recreation spots over crowded, have your job threatened by skilled immigrants and so on. That’s not prejudice, it’s a rational and valid economic and social preference. But voting conservative in response is nonsense as they are just as committed to large scale immigration.

  11. “The anti immigration stuff is very real … But voting conservative in response is nonsense as they are just as committed to large scale immigration.”

    The trouble with that analysis is that One Nation at the least say they are opposed to large scale immigration, and their voters are in fact majority opposed to it.

  12. It seems to me that most of what passes for shocking new threats to democracy aren’t new at all. These things didn’t spring from nowhere, the Conservative story that masses of ordinary people are suddenly just fed up with arrogant urban elites just doesn’t wash . All that is new is that the threats have grown and the dominant sociopolitical class is losing control. For decades they have used such threats on a low heat to maintain wealth flows but as inequality and injustice grew the fire (no pun intended) inevitably got out of control. Neo-liberalism might be over and the transition to Fascist style surveillance and security states is well underway.

    What puzzles me at the moment is why are the actual elites are currently allowing ,admittedly limited but still risky, tariffs ? It could be just a sign of their loss of control and lack of new ideas or maybe they are going along with nationalist/fascist leaders as part of a long game .Maye a bit of both. Ayn Rand and her brand of ‘optimistic cruelty’ would hate tariffs ,but silicon valley ,Wall st ,and Trumps cabinet are stacked with Rand devotees.

  13. KT2, 12:56 pm, – interesting contrasting that recent distillation of old wisdom to the Shorten campaign … more on that…

    “No intelligent idea can gain general acceptance unless some stupidity is mixed in with it.
    — Fernando Pessoa, 1888-1935, Portuguese poet & writer

    To succeed in the world, it is much more necessary to possess the penetration to discern who is a fool, than to discover who is a clever man.
    — Talleyrand, 1754-1838, French statesman & diplomat

    A fool will think you are an idiot if you talk sense to him.
    — Euripides, 480-406 BC, Ancient Greek tragedian ‐ Bacchae

    As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.
    — Old Testament ‐ Proverbs 26:11

    When a wise man talks to a fool, two fools are talking.
    — Yiddish proverb

    There’s no fool like an old fool.
    — English (boomer) proverb

    In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.
    — Napoleon, 1769-1821, French Emperor

    The secret of the demagogue is to make himself as stupid as his audience so they believe they are clever as he.
    — Karl Kraus, 1874-1936, Austrian writer

    The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.
    — William Shakespeare, 1564-1616, English poet & playwright ‐ As You Like It

    The best plan is to profit by the folly of others.
    — Pliny the Elder, 23-79 μ.X., Roman natural philosopher

    Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.
    — George Carlin, 1936-2008, American comedian”

    https://best-quotations.com/catquotes.php?categ=940

  14. On winning by one seat –

    “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.
    — George Carlin, 1936-2008, American comedian”

  15. Historyintime, 1:02 pm –
    “The anti immigration stuff is very real … But voting conservative in response is nonsense as they are just as committed to large scale immigration.”

    The trouble with that analysis is that One Nation at the least say they are opposed to large scale immigration, and their voters are in fact majority opposed to it.

    There are compounding conservative religionist/cultural issues to ponder, but as 70% of immigrants for some time now are also opposed to large scale immigration this comes as no great surprise:

    Migrants bucking stereotypes and voting for One Nation | Australia Talks

  16. I liked this one of Svante’s as it immediately brought nigel farage to mind…

    “The secret of the demagogue is to make himself as stupid as his audience so they believe they are clever as he.
    — Karl Kraus, 1874-1936, Austrian writer”

    Lucky Karl is not writing about me;
    “I trim my opponents to fit my arrows”. Ouch!
    https://en.m.wikiquote.org/wiki/Karl_Kraus

  17. Here are four propositions about voting behavior which, as far as I can tell, have been true in nearly all democratic countries for at least the past 50 years.

    How extensive is the evidence that all four of those propositions are true in nearly all democratic countries? Is there evidence from, for example, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Papua New Guine, Peru, the Philippines, and Poland? And what evidence is there going back fifty years?

    If those propositions are true for some countries now, that’s important for understanding the politics of those countries, but it’s not the same thing as their being true for nearly all democratic countries, and going back fifty years.

  18. JD I also would like detail (gulp) and more citations. Education imo is weightier than wealth.

    And a youthquake? Terrible to go to the polls hoping for such.

    And to fix this – “the weighting data provided as standard from pollsters in the UK (in Australia we can only imagine such things)”

    Does JQ’s four propositions hold currently in the UK?

    Thankyou to Pollbudger.

    Juxtaposing young vs old voters. 

    “Labour optimists are hanging on to the notion of a pro-Labour “youthquake” that will up-end the pollsters’ turnout models. The importance of the age distribution of the voting population is forcefully illustrated by the chart below, which shows voting intention by age cohort (off very small sub-samples) from a recent poll by ICM Research.”

    -graph –

    …”Pollsters are varying quite substantially as to age distribution, as illustrated in the next chart, which has been derived from the weighting data provided as standard from pollsters in the UK (in Australia we can only imagine such things). ”
    https://www.pollbludger.net/2019/12/06/british-election-polling-five-charts/

  19. In Queensland until about the mid-C20, there was a substantial rural and regional working class that provided solid support for Labor. This was a reason why the Hanlon Labor Government introduced the electoral malapportionment in favour of regional and rural areas in the late 1940s. Structural economic and demographic change meant that the malapportionment turned to the advantage of the Country/National Party. Nonetheless a kind of nostalgia about Queensland Labor’s regional roots still seems to influence its political thinking.

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