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Hullabaloo


Monday, November 23, 2015

 

‘People on Medicaid don’t vote.’

by Tom Sullivan

At an event Saturday night in eastern Tennessee, an organizer brought up the meme that poor people tend to "vote against their best interests," for Republicans who vote to slash safety net programs that keep them afloat. This complaint, as I have written, is an old pet peeve. First, because it's a lefty dog whistle for saying those voters are stupid — which they hear clearly even if we cannot. And second, as liberals do we really want our neighbors to go into the voting booth to vote what's best for No. 1 rather than for an America that aspires to something better? But Saturday night, the same organizer offered a new twist from a New York Times article by ProPublica's Alec MacGillis:

In eastern Kentucky and other former Democratic bastions that have swung Republican in the past several decades, the people who most rely on the safety-net programs secured by Democrats are, by and large, not voting against their own interests by electing Republicans. Rather, they are not voting, period. They have, as voting data, surveys and my own reporting suggest, become profoundly disconnected from the political process.

The people in these communities who are voting Republican in larger proportions are those who are a notch or two up the economic ladder — the sheriff’s deputy, the teacher, the highway worker, the motel clerk, the gas station owner and the coal miner. And their growing allegiance to the Republicans is, in part, a reaction against what they perceive, among those below them on the economic ladder, as a growing dependency on the safety net, the most visible manifestation of downward mobility in their declining towns.

This is perhaps a manifestation of the "last place aversion" I wrote about in February. It is the need to have someone to look down on so you do not see yourself on the bottom rung of life's ladder:

Two of McElwee's links go to Stanford studies suggesting how last-place aversion explains why, for example, "individuals making just above the minimum wage are the most likely to oppose its increase." (Last-place aversion, by the way, holds "for both whites and minorities.")

But the MacGillis column suggests the greater problem for Democrats is not losing the votes of those "a notch or two up," but losing the participation of "the least of these," as Jesus once described them:

This political disconnect among lower-income Americans has huge ramifications — polls find nonvoters are far more likely to favor spending on the poor and on government services than are voters, and the gap grows even larger among poor nonvoters. In the early 1990s, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky freely cited the desirability of having a more select electorate when he opposed an effort to expand voter registration. And this fall, Scott Jennings, a longtime McConnell adviser, reportedly said low turnout by poor Kentuckians explained why the state’s Obamacare gains wouldn’t help Democrats. “I remember being in the room when Jennings was asked whether or not Republicans were afraid of the electoral consequences of displacing 400,000-500,000 people who have insurance,” State Auditor Adam Edelen, a Democrat who lost his re-election bid this year, told Joe Sonka, a Louisville journalist. “And he simply said, ‘People on Medicaid don’t vote.’ ”

Can you say cynical? Sure. I knew you could. I would bet a lot of them do not own cars or have photo IDs either. But then, I know, that's verging into tinfoil hat territory.

Demographics are working against Republican turnout. Democrats cannot afford to have economic hardships working against theirs. They had best take this matter pretty seriously heading into the 2016 election and the 2020 census.