Monday, March 2, 2015

Why people vote the way they do (4) : Last place aversion and race

Following up on our series why people vote in ways that potentially damage them, a discussion of how race yet again percolates to the surface.
Contrary to popular belief, the incomes of the very rich increase more under Democrats than they do under Republicans. While pretax and transfer incomes are rather similar, the main shift occurs posttax and transfer.

Similarly, in absolute terms, whites do better under Democratic than under Republican leadership. But that doesn’t really matter.  People weigh their well-being relative to those around them. There is strong evidence that whites often oppose actions against inequality because of “last place aversion,” the desire to ensure that there is a class of people below oneself. Among white voters, racial bias is strongly correlated with lower support of redistributive programs. For example, research shows that opposition to welfare is driven by racial anger. Approximately half of the difference between social spending in the U.S. and Europe can be explained by racial animosity.
I think one thing having an African American President has taught us, is that the toxic brew that is racism is far from being solved in this country.

And what is this "last place aversion"? It comes from this paper, which showed (my emphasis)
 In money-transfer games, those randomly placed in second-to-last place are the least likely to costlessly give money to the player one rank below. Last-place aversion suggests that low-income individuals might oppose redistribution because it could differentially help the group just beneath them. Using survey data, we show that individuals making just above the minimum wage are the most likely to oppose its increase.
So, rather than viewing it as an advantage to bring someone up to the next level, the person previously at that level resents now being at the bottom. And race, as in everything else, enters into it.

Or as Lyndon Johnson put it, "If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you."

And yet, so many of these people who are unwillng to help their fellows call themselves Christians. I think it's no coincidence that, as the saying goes, Sundays at church are  the most segregated day in America.

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