Rich/poor, conservative/progressive, false/true consciousness by mattsteinglass
March 16, 2009, 10:50 am
Filed under: Economics, Europe

Matthew Yglesias presents a set of charts from Andrew Gelman’s book Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State showing that while rich people are more likely to vote for the conservative party in the US, this is less true in Western Europe. But as Yglesias notes, this thesis seems a bit confusing without knowing how it’s classifying “conservative” parties in Europe. In many European countries while it may be clear which parties are “progressive” — usually some variant of the Labor and Green parties — the parties of the right tend to be split between a Christian Democratic party, which usually has many pro-labor and pro-poor policies that would be clearly the province of the Democratic Party in the US, and a laissez-faire low-taxes party (often called the Liberals) which more closely fits the profile of the Republicans in the US except that they may also be pro-immigration and oppose military adventurism abroad. In Germany you have the complications introduced by the legacy of the DDR, which thoroughly scrambles the map of social versus economic conservatism.

But this whole subject is a bit confusing, because if we say that in fact economically conservative parties tend to be supported by the rich, what we’re really saying is just that the problem of false consciousness is overrated. If in fact Gelman’s charts are well constructed and the “conservative” axis reflects economically conservative policies, then the US simply has more rational voters than, say, France or Ireland, where a lot of poor people seem to be voting for the right. But I would hazard a guess that this is not really what’s going on, and that in countries where poor people are voting for the right, you’re looking at either religion (Ireland), ethnic conflict (Belgium), anxiety over immigration (Switzerland), or a mix of the above (France, Israel). And to the extent that poor people in the US do vote conservative, a lot of the same factors apply — as they do in, say, Russia.


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