Why Does It Seem Like People Vote Against Their Own Interests?

“Policy schmalicy. Policy has nothing to do with how people vote,” says author Bill Bishop.

Jake Neher/WDET

For a long time now, people on the political left have asked why some people seem to vote against their own interests and cast ballots for Republicans

But the election of President Donald Trump has pushed this and other political paradoxes into the spotlight. Republican control in Washington D.C. means hundreds of thousands of people in red states who benefit from expanding Medicaid under the federal health care law now risk losing their insurance.

Also, a majority of white women voted for Trump after numerous reports of his womanizing and demeaning language toward women.

Why does it seem like some people vote against their own best interests? And is that the right question? Are people on the political left asking it from the wrong perspective while ignoring their own paradoxical voting behavior?

Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson speaks with sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild, author of “Strangers In Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.”

“They feel pushed back, they feel almost like a minority themselves, unrepresented,” says Hochschild. “And they didn’t feel like there was an alternative. They didn’t feel like the Democratic Party gave them a sense of recognition as a sector of society that was fearful for its place.”

Henderson is also joined by Bill Bishop, journalist and author of “The Big Sort: The Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart.” Bishop says the idea that people vote with specific policy expectations is “folklore.”

“Policy schmalicy. Policy has nothing to do with how people vote,” says Bishop. He also points out that rich people also often vote against their own interests.

“They vote for their social identity. And that’s why the divisions are so stark, because they’re not about policy. They’re about who we are — who we think we are.”

Click on the audio player above to hear the full conversation.


  • Detroit Today
    Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.