Sometimes we scratch our heads when we look at voting patterns, trends and outcomes. Sometimes they seem to defy common sense and logic. But, on closer examination, maybe not. Let me share my thoughts. When times are stressful, whether financially or socially, our priorities change. When I am worried about a job, or caring for my family, my priorities shift to those issues that will make my life easier. The same when I have health issues and I am worried about adequate, affordable, health insurance. This is in contrast times when the economy is strong and I feel like I am doing well and improving my personal situation. In this situation I can look around and pay attention to the broader community around me, and even the nation as a whole.
When it comes time to vote, if I am feeling personally stressed, if I feel like I am losing ground, I will vote based on what will benefit “Me”. This is totally understandable. There is an added dimension at work here. If I feel that my condition is not improving, or getting worse, because government/politicians are totally ineffectual or focused on their own selfish political priorities, then I tend to vote antiestablishment in the hope for change.
In the period after WWII, up until about the 80s, things were generally quite good. Economic growth was very good. Europe was rebuilding and there was not a lot of global competition. Most importantly, there was a general feeling of well being. Each generation had the expectation of doing better than the prior generation. Everyone shared in the wealth being generated. Labor made gains and felt secure. In this climate voters could look longer term and think about what is best for the nation as a whole and make their decisions accordingly. Democracy was working and generally healthy. Voter priorities could put “Us” high on their list.
We are faced with the critical question of why voter priority seems to be on “Me” and not “Us”. Most macro indices point to a very healthy US economy. When we look deeper, however, new wealth is mainly accruing to the financial elite, the “1%”. The middle class seems to be shrinking. There are jobs, but they are less rewarding and pay less. Benefits are shrinking or more costly. There is not a feeling of making progress. So no wonder that today many voters tend to very near-sighted and personal priorities in making voting decisions, as well as anti-establishment.
The fix seems clear. We need to improve the economy for all – better share the wealth. How to do this is the topic of another blog. The answers are not simple, but the first step is really clear – we must find and elect representatives that truly represent our collective interests and that have the skills to be politically effective.