What's wrong with voting against your self interest?

I see a lot of people give flak to others, on both sides, (usually groups rather than individuals) about “voting against their own self interest” as if this is some moronic thing.

One example is a few panels in this comic* from The Oatmeal, which portrays a less religious liberal and religious conservative, and makes the point that the liberal is a small business owner who the conservative candidate’s economic policies will hurt, and the conservative voter’s income bracket will be hurt by the conservative candidate’s plan. The way this is presented is clearly supposed to be ridiculous, and they both immediately start shouting about social issues (which, again, is supposed to look ridiculous). The general tenor of the section is that caring about religion (and social issues) is dumb and people “should” be voting purely in their own, personal economic self interest.

That’s just one example, though, and I’ve seen the implication that someone is dumb for “voting against their own self interest” many times, whether it be liberal self business owners or conservative minorities. It seems to be a common accusation.

But my perspective is… so what? Yes, sometimes ill informed people can be lied to, tricked, or simply via simple misinterpretation vote against their self interest. That’s a bit of ignorance and I can see it being a bit vexing. However, it seems like there are many reasons somebody could, completely lucidly and knowingly, vote against their own self interest, and I’d call the scenarios pretty common.

Pretty much any wealthy liberal calling for more capital gains or high income bracket taxes is voting against their self interest, but they may earnestly believe it can help the poor or improve infrastructure. But even a conservative could honestly believe “yes, a tax break for the rich may be harder on me, but hell, I made a lot of mistakes. People who make that kind of money shouldn’t have to prop me up.” It’s a viewpoint that, while I may not 100% agree with myself, is an ethical belief I’m not sure is worthy of ridicule just because it’s against the voter’s personal self interest.

In fact, in a limited-party system, it’s almost impossible to vote entirely in one’s own self interest. At some point, a candidate is likely to have views that both help you and hurt you. Maybe one party proposes tax breaks for your bracket, but also wants to impose trade sanctions on a country that your company does a lot of business with, or any other number of small things. A conservative economist at a university, as another example, may face dilemmas when presented with candidates like Walker who may have the economic policies they endorse, but also have historically endorsed policies that threaten a lot of the more professor-friendly status quo of universities.

So why do we chastise groups for voting “against their self interest”? It seems like an untenable criticism to me. Yes, there are people who “vote against their self interest” out of ignorance when there’s overwhelming evidence the policies are wrong, all the while believing it is helping them. However, I don’t feel like that’s worth a blanket joke at the whole concept of voting for people who may not make your personal life the best.

[size=1]* Which honestly is a bit annoying

I have only noticed that accusation being thrown by losers. If a given politician is voted into office, or a referendum is passed against what WE all KNOW is best for Everyone, the losing side will scratch their heads and ask how these poor ignorant folks could have been duped into “voting against their own interests.”

As you say, there are more factors in play than just “self interest” when it comes to political games.

I’ve seen plenty of these accusations about voting against one’s self-interest being thrown at certain demographics, often gay, female, or minority Republicans, or hyper-religious or wealthy Democrats. I don’t only not see how that’s inherently a bad thing, as I’ve seen it characterized, I think that it could even be taken as a complement of one’s ideological conviction, that one is able to look past one’s own interest for, hopefully, what one sees as the vision that will bring their community, state, or nation the greatest good. Now, of course, one can, and should, criticize whether or not the Republican or Democratic vision is actually the right direction, but it’s hard to criticize someone for being selfish, perhaps claiming a minority is “trying to get special rights” or a wealthy person is “trying to manipulate the economy more in their favor”, if they vote against the party that that sort of rhetoric is often used toward.

Or it’s still quite possible that even if one is voting against one’s own self-interest in one area that one isn’t still doing so for another. For example, imagine a deeply religious and wealthy black woman; if she votes Democratic, well she’s “just doing that because she’s a black woman” or she’s “voting against her religious and economic self interest”, or essentially the opposite claim if she votes Republican.

Frankly, I think the whole idea of analyzing a given person’s voting patterns based on their demographic vastly over-simplifies the though process behind their vote. Sure, certain demographics, as a whole, will often statistically vote one way or the other, but it’s not reasonable to say that a member of a particular demographic votes in line with that demographic BECAUSE they’re voting in line with their own self-interest, or votes against those trends BECAUSE they’re going against their own self-interest. Demographics aren’t a monolithic group that all share the same beliefs and priorities.

Sometimes people place the good of the country above their own personal benefit.


It’s far far less important to me that I vote in my own self interest compared to everyone else voting in my own self interest.

DrFidelius seems to have the sense to this … it’s just a lame ass excuse for losers.

You haven’t been around here very long, have you. :slight_smile:

How many times have we seen, in US presidential political discussions, the “winners” on this MB posit that it is inconceivable that poor people vote for someone like Romney? At any rate, I agree with the OP. Many of my political positions, if enacted, would hurt me. But if they’re the right thing to do, then… they’re the right thing to do.

Oh yeah.

I completely forgot about the “good thing we were able to override those poor simpletons who were trying to push through something against their best interest; they should thank us for saving them from that fate” gloats posts.

I think this is mainly thrown against people who have been fooled into thinking that that a given policy is in their self interest when in fact it is against it.

Say for example a lower income person being in favor of a flat tax because they think it will lower their taxes, or a protesting to “keep the government’s hands out of my medicare”.

I agree with the OP. And the other posters good observations here.

Every time I see someone making a big deal about some “dumbass voting against their own interest” my first inclination of who is actually the dumbass isn’t the voting person.

And IMO it happens around here way too often.

I completely agree with the OP - I also think that some people think that economic self interest is the only valid thing that one should vote for, which I find to be absolutely ridiculous.

If we were in a RACE (fast or slow) and we had some bad luck or they had some good luck or were just a bit better and got there first that really wouldn’t bother me.

If we didn’t even try, then it’s not that we didn’t win. Its that we didn’t try. And I would worry that that says something about us as a nation/people that might not be a good thing.

Opps, wondered where the hell that post got off too…

I haven’t seen it done by both sides. I’ve only seen/heard Democrats say it about poor and middle class Republicans, believing anyone who is not rich will be hurt by Republican policies. This, from the party that votes to give other people food stamps and cell phones.

It’s not dumbass to vote against your interests. It’s dumb to think that some issue that you get worked up over is the real issue that some politician cares about, and not a shell game, and an exploitation of your inability to think critically, or outside of your own rage.

When that happens I often wonder why they voted against their interests. But that’s not the part of it that aggravates me, per se.

And there are lots of single issue voters. On the conservative side, it’s abortion and guns. Now, you could argue that the NRA has worked people into a frenzy about a non-existent threat to gun rights, but a lot of people aren’t all that clued into things like income tax since so many Americans don’t pay any in the first place.

I generally don’t like the idea of voting for your self interest, I think that’s how you get Idiocracy. But like everything, it depends.

I’ve voted locally against tax cuts which would have given me more money because I knew the government couldn’t afford it. I would have little respect for anyone who voted for a tax cut when they knew it would make us broke next year.

It would be a little harder to understand if a black person voted for someone who vehemently denied that there were race relation problems in this country. I also wouldn’t understand if a gay person voted for Rick Santorum. These are much more important and personal issues and those people they voted for wouldn’t just ‘not help,’ they would make things worse.

But if there was a greater good, then I’d understand. If Santorum had revolutionary ideas on other subjects, then ok. But if he’s just another politician with mediocre policies plus he hates gays and a gay person voted for him, it wouldn’t compute.

This is all hypothetical. What the hell do I care who someone voted for? I wouldn’t judge a gay Santorum supporter, but if they feel like talking about it, I might like to hear the explanation because I’d be confused until I did.

You mean the ones Bush handed out?

It’s arrogant to think that someone votes against their self interests. Perhaps the argument can be made in the case of a narrow economic interest, but in total, people vote for their own self interests by definition. To quantify it, you’d have to measure the marginal utility they derive from whatever group of policies/politicians they are supporting.

The disconnect is when the person leveling the criticism assumes that the person they are criticizing shares the same values as them. That’s where the arrogance comes in.

How you defined your self interest is up to you, but it is patently stupid to vote against what you consider your best interest to be. When someone else tells you that you are voting against your own self interest they mean you are voting against their self interest.

No one “handed out” cell phones. That program subsidized phone service, not hardware. And you can only get one type of service, so if you get cell phone service subsidy, you can’t get land line service subsidy. Some companies included free phones as part of the service, but that’s on them. And the actual original is back in the New Deal days, in an attempt to get everyone on the phone grid.