There is one thing that you would think that would be self evident in politics: People would vote in the best interest of themselves and their families, especially when it comes to their pocketbooks. After all what intelligent, well informed voters would ever vote against candidates whose ideas would financially benefit them, their families, their communities, and their state. That simply wouldn’t be logical, but strangely enough it happens all of the time.
While Republicans politicians in Washington do their best to reduce federal government spending and cut or and least trim back federal government programs, it is often the states that elected them which benefit the most from those programs. For example, without question Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina are among the very reddest of the red states. Those three states are represented in Washington by two Republican Senators each and of their combined eighteen elected Representatives, all but three (one in each state) are Republicans. Yet these states also benefit among the most from the federal programs their elected representatives are trying to cut. Mississippi receives $2.73 in federal benefits for every $1 its citizens pay in federal taxes. South Carolina receives $2.13 per federal tax dollar paid and Alabama $1.93. Only two other states have higher benefit to tax ratios and most other states fare far worse.
Now on the surface it is difficult to understand why voters in Mississippi, South Carolina and Alabama would consistently vote for Republican candidates who are sworn to try their best to cut or trim the very federal programs which provide their states with much more money than is collected in federal taxes. The net surplus in federal funds flowing into these three states are ultimately spent on goods and services which otherwise would not be purchased. By the time that money turned over several times (the so called multiplier affect), everyone in those states benefits to some degree. And because many of those purchases are taxed, a lot more money than otherwise flows into the state coffers where it supposed to be used to benefit the states’ citizens. So why wouldn’t rational, well informed voters in those three states vote instead for Democratic candidates sworn to protect or even enhance those programs which benefit their states far more than others? Perhaps it is because those voters in Mississippi, South Carolina and Alabama not exceedingly well informed or rational.
I think we can agree that generally the better educated a population is, the more likely it that it will be better informed and able to better understand the inner relationships in relatively complex political issues. Well, the populations of Mississippi, South Carolina and Alabama are not particularly well educated when compared to other states. Mississippi currently ranks 40th in the percentage of its population which has a high school diploma or higher and it is 49th in the percentage of its population with a bachelors degrees or higher, South Carolina ranks 30th in people with school diplomas and 36th with bachelors degrees and Alabama is 44th and 40th respectively. Nor do these states rank well in the quality of their education systems which is an indication of how well educated those with a high school diplomas really are. Mississippi’s K through 12 education system ranks 40th, South Carolina’s 39th and Alabama’s 42nd.
Now none of this would matter much if it was relative clear to all of the voters that the federal programs in question benefited each of them individually, but that is not the case. Most of the money provided by federal programs is provided to people who live below the poverty line. Even in Mississippi, South Carolina and Alabama, which are relatively poor states, only a small percentage of the populations live in poverty. Mississippi leads the nation with the largest percentage of it population living below the poverty line with 21.6%. Alabama is 9th with 16.1% and South Carolina is 10th with 15.7%. So even in these poor states, the majority of the population is not benefiting directly from many of the federal programs.. Because the average individual is relatively under educated and not very well informed, they often don’t have the capacity to understand when the poorest people in their state have access to health care and can buy the necessities of life, they too benefit economically and pay lower insurance rates.
Most of citizens of these states are unable to grasp the complex economic relationship by which the funds provided to the poor in their states indirectly, but substantially benefit them as well. All they see is that their tax dollars are being used for those federal programs and they are not receiving direct benefits. It is for this same reason that Republican governors in red states can get away with the politically expedient, but fiscally stupid decisions of refusing to expand Medicaid in their states. Not surprisingly, despite the fact that the federal government would pick up 100 percent of the cost of covering the people made newly eligible for Medicaid for the first three years and no less than 90 percent on a permanent basis, the governors of Mississippi, South Carolina and Alabama opted their states out.
If Medicaid were expanded in my home state of Alabama hundreds of thousands of additional Alabama residents would gain access good health care. However, with his callous refusal to adopt the program, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (a physician for heaven sakes) is screwing the entire state. A study conducted by the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Alabama’s premier medical school, projected that the state would gain some $6.8 billion in federal funds through 2017, with an indirect economic impact of 4.7 billion. Another study the University of Alabama, commissioned by the Alabama Hospital Association, estimated some 30,000 new jobs would be created across all sectors of the states economy. However, even in the when confronted with these facts, Bentley refuse to yeald. If awards were given for the most stupid governmental decisions, Robert Bentley would be a prime candidate to retire the trophy. Yet he is still the odds on favorite to be reelected in November. This is just another shining example of people voting against their own selfish self interest because they aren’t knowledgeable enough to understand that their governor is sacrificing their well being for the sake of politics.
However, lack of understanding doesn’t completely explain why the voters in Mississippi, South Carolina and Alabama, and most of the rest of the South, continue to vote over whelming Republican. In fact, it may not be the major cause. There a lot very smart, very knowledgeable people in those three states who vote exclusively Republican. Even the poor rednecks, if they were capable of fully understanding the direct benefits of the federal programs, might well continue to pull the Republican lever in the voting booth.
You see, many Southerners were raised by their parents in the very old tradition of distrusting and disliking the federal government. That traditional started with their great great, …. great grandparents before and after the Civil War. That traditional was revived (if it ever died down) when the federal government forced integration on the South against wishes of many of their parents and grandparents. That is not to say the Southerners still yearn for the days of segregation. The vast majority do not. Most, especially the young people, are at least as open mind about race relations as their northern brethren. However they continue to distrust and resent of the federal government just as their ancestors did. Therefore, they continue the long held Southern tradition of stubbornly voting for the most conservative candidates available – right now that’s the Republicans – even if they realize that it’s not the best financial choice for them.
So while rationally one would expect that people would vote in their selfish interest, often they do not. They are ether not smart or knowledgeable to understand what is in their best interest and/or they are not rational and pragmatic enough to overcome their long held prejudices against the government in Washington. That’s enough to drive rational, pragmatic people like me to distraction.