Pew study analysis shows that Americans are knowingly acting against their best interest.

In his regular column on the Op/Ed page of last Saturday’s New York Times, Charles Blow presented survey results from the Pew Research Center in chart form without explanation.  His article, titled “False Choices,” is loosely related to the chart and proposes that “we need both sensible tax increases and sensible spending cuts to address the deficit.”  I generally like what Blow has to say, but I reject this assertion, for two reasons: 1) The deficit should not be an issue until we have more people working; 2) Tax increases, and not cuts to job-creating programs, should be the only way to cure the deficit problem because taxes are currently too low on higher incomes; additionally, raising taxes always produces jobs.  Of course, maybe by “sensible cuts,” Blow means cuts to military spending, which I enthusiastically support.  Alas, Blow is not specific.

But I don’t want to quibble with Blow, but instead shed some light on the Pew study he presents. I want to do the math for everyone who saw, or didn’t see, the article, and extrapolate from it a phenomenon that truly is frightening: Americans acting and voting against their own best interest.

The results of the Pew study of a representative cross-section of adults nationwide show that while 53% of those surveyed are following the debate on raising the U.S. debt ceiling very closely or somewhat closely, only about 48% believe they understand what would happen if the debt ceiling is not raised. 

Despite their uneasiness with the subject, an incredible 73% of those surveyed are very concerned or somewhat concerned that not raising the debt limit would force the United States to default and hurt the nation’s economy. The Pew study thus shows that Americans are well aware that it’s a very bad idea not to raise the debt ceiling.

And yet when asked if they wanted their Congressional representative to vote in favor of or against raising the debt ceiling, only 19% said in favor, while 47% said to vote against. (34% said they didn’t know enough to have an opinion.)

So once again, Americans seem to be voting against their own best interests.  They realize that raising the debt ceiling is a necessity, and yet they want their Congressperson to vote against it.  

What is going on here?  Last week, I told you about a group (too small to be statistically representative) whose incomes depend to a large extent on the government doling out money to nonprofit organizations, yet nevertheless are against tax increases that for the most part wouldn’t harm them.

Eight months ago, I noted that working class whites are supporting the very political party—the Republicans—that has been taking money from the working class since Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency.  

I understand that about a quarter to a third of the voters put more stock in social issues than economic or political issues; really I should say “social control” issues, because in all cases, these so-called “values” voters want to control what other people do, e.g., by opposing gay marriage and a woman’s right to have an abortion or by inserting Christianity into public and secular places.  Related to, and to a large extent overlapping, these “social control” voters are those who vote on the single issue of gun rights.  Whether they know it or not, except for the ultra-wealthy among them, these groups of voters have made a devil’s bargain with the economic free-marketers: support our values and we’ll support your economic policies even though they hurt us.

Of course that doesn’t explain the rest of those voting against their own interests.


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