There has been a raft of books and articles out recently that try to explain why low and moderate income people seem to vote against their own economic and social interests. Thomas Frank, the editor of The Baffler Magazine, summed it up: "It's like a French Revolution in reverse in which the workers come pouring down the street, screaming for more power to the aristocracy."
Similarly, there is Jonathan Rauch's article, "Do Family Values Weaken Families?" Rauch's article (which drew on Naomi Cahn's and June Carbone's book, Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture), reports that parents who teach Christian-based morals to their children and vote Republican get exactly the opposite of what they hope for: they lead the league in rates of divorce, age of first childbirth, and out of wedlock pregnancies. The problem is so prevalent that the 2010 Southern Baptist Conference called the divorce rates of evangelical Christians "a scandal."
The numbers cited in Red Families vs. Blue Families are robust and not casual. San Francisco, home of the Evil Liberal Witch Nancy Pelosi, and Ultra-Liberal Massachusetts, have far lower divorce rates than Evangelical Arkansas and Mississippi. Six of the seven states with the lowest divorce rates in 2007, and all seven with the lowest teen birthrates in 2006, voted blue in both elections. Six of the seven states with the highest divorce rates in 2007, and five of the seven with the highest teen birthrates, voted red. It looks like Kerry and Obama voters are able to keep their pants on and remain faithful to their marriage vows quite a bit better on average than Bush and McCain voters.
Why do evangelical Republicans behave so at odds with the way they vote? Maybe it's because politicians promoting family values on their behalf--David Vitter, John Ensign, Larry Craig, Mark Sanford, et al.--seem to be having the same trouble. Or, maybe something more significant is going on.
Joe Bageant, in his new book, Deer hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War, points to three possible reasons. First, Republican politicians are able to tell more compelling and dramatic stories than Democrats, who tend to boor people--and the media--with facts and details:
Voter Question: "Please, Sir, I need to make a living wage. How can you help?"
Republican Politician Answer: "OMG! There goes a wetback!! And he's gay!!!"
Voter Response: "OMG! Where?! Where?!"
Secondly, working people resent "over-educated" Elites telling them what's good for them, and for promoting and fostering greater dependence on systems that will be managed and supervised by other Elites. Voters clearly resent the hell out of the fact that state and federal employees earn nearly twice as much as workers do for similar private sector work. And who wouldn't resent it? Why should public service workers be doing so much better than their private sector counterparts? Yup, it goes against the grain to have someone supervising your every move, but when you have to pay double time for the "service" it can be really insulting.
Conversely, Red State voters should learn that both domestic and international terrorism is almost exclusively the business of right wing religious fanatics. Yes, the Left may tax your butt, but they're not going to blow it up. Knowing this fact might (possibly) stop Elites from rolling their eyes every time a Red State Voter steps up to a microphone.
Third, and most significant, is that blue state voters are better educated than their red state "conservative" counterparts, and consequently make more money. Typically, as Cahn and Carbone point out, two blue state "elites" delay marriage, graduate from college, marry each other, and delay childbearing until their careers are secure. As two highly paid elites, they can afford both liberal sentiments and liberal agendas. And because they can afford to extend the safety net "to the poor" they're eligible for the red state voter's mistrust and resentment. Go figure.
Voters with red state values, "family" or otherwise can, these writers say, change their circumstances if they authentically adopt the conservative, ruggedly individualistic strategies of the blue state elites: delay marriage, go to college, and marry another college graduate. The Protestant Ethic of working, saving, and denying (the consequences of) the flesh is alive and well for Elites without the benefit of James Dobson, or Focus on the Family. It ought to be a matter of concern to red state voters that Dobson fails to recognize that family values are expensive. If he did, he might be less hostile to the Social Justice issues that face them.
A belief that either political party will deliver high paying production jobs within our current industrial and production paradigm is a fantasy. In 1976, a member of the Meat Packer's Union made $10.76 an hour, plus benefits. Today, more than 40 years later, a beginning meat packer (there is no Union any more)--makes...$10.76 an hour. Falling wages and disappearing benefits is a scandal that neither party is willing to address. Democrats will probably take care of you when you become poor enough--and Republicans will always take care of the corporations. Otherwise, you're on your own.
Reagan Democrats--the encompassing descriptor for low and moderate income red state voters--can also change their circumstances by starting to think more critically, and by refusing to let Republican office holders treat them like a cheap date. People don't have to go to Harvard to get a Harvard education (you can get one at our local Public Library)--but they do need to stop watching reality TV and start getting real about what's being done to them by the people they vote into office.