‘Moral values are a luxury good’: The richer people get, the more they prioritize moral issues when they vote, say Harvard researchers


A new working paper suggests that the richer you are, the more likely you are to vote based on your morale rather than your personal financial interests.

A group of social scientists developed this theory after creating a model, based on more than 18,000 responses from Americans across the political spectrum, that predicted the emergence of economically left-wing elites. i suggested that richer people are more likely than disadvantaged people to vote against their own financial interests. The model also suggested that while rich moral liberals tend to be Democrats, and less wealthy moral conservatives skew Republicans, there is more diversity in these issues within the Democratic Party than the Republican Party.

In other words, wealthier Americans can afford to prioritize concerns that do not immediately affect their own personal financial well-being. The document, “Morals as Luxury Goods and Political Polarization,” was distributed Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research and was co-authored by Benjamin Enke, an associate professor at Harvard University, Mattias Polborn, a professor of economics and politics. sciences at Vanderbilt University and Alex Wu, a doctoral student in the Business Economics program at Harvard.

“Moral values ​​are a luxury good,” Wu told MarketWatch. “We are trying to understand many patterns that have arisen over political polarization over time. It does not mean that the poor do not care about morality and the rich do. morality. ”Or in other words, richer people talk more about prioritizing moral values when they vote and / or choose a political party. The model also predicted a growing polarization among political parties, causing poor moral conservatives to change Republicans even if their relative incomes fell.

“We are trying to understand many patterns that have emerged about political polarization over time.”


– Alex Wu, PhD student in the Business Economics program at Harvard and co-author of a new working paper on money and morals

Rich liberals are moving to the left and poorer conservatives are moving to the right, even if outsiders seem to be voting against theirs. financial interests, Wu said. “How are you going to exchange your moral interests with your economic interests? Why do they seem to have turned to the moral side? Our story that can tell part of this is that the positions of the parties have really moved. The Democratic Party is more attractive to a poor Conservative on economic issues, but the Republican Party is more attractive to poor Conservatives on moral issues. “

On these moral beliefs: each party has identified more strongly with certain moral stances. Forty years ago, studies showed that voters cared less about abortion as a deciding factor in deciding which party they belonged to, Wu told MarketWatch. “If I told you that this person supports abortion, you would not know how he felt about taxes, health care and immigration. Today, if I told you that they support abortion, you could predict what political issues they have, and that way these issues have been further aligned. “

The authors added studies to construct indicators of economic and social conservatism and classify issues as economic or moral. An example of the question includes the question of whether the government should provide more or more services in areas such as health and education. The result of a focus on moral issues, Wu noted, was that some poorer voters who are Republicans could benefit from greater welfare benefits, even if their chosen party recommends it.

Forty years ago, studies showed that voters cared less about abortion as a deciding factor in deciding which party they belonged to.

At a broader level, the moral values ​​and beliefs of a society also play a critical role in the development of this economy, and who gets more priority under the policies of this government. The World Values ​​Survey, which explores people’s values ​​and beliefs, and how they change over time and wealth or lack thereof, gives this comprehensive example of how government morals, money, and government policy interact: ” “People’s beliefs play a key role in economic development, the emergence and flourishing of democratic institutions, the rise of gender equality, and the extent to which societies have effective government.”

Consumers can soften their moral opposition to a problem with more information. Last month, researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the University of Toronto, and CEMA University in Argentina analyzed social disapproval and demands for price regulation and control among consumers as prices rise. These increases are not only seen as a sign of scarcity in a product, but also lead to strong and polarized moral reactions. When dissatisfied consumers are more aware, for example, of rising production costs and / or labor costs, however, they are more able to make amends when they decide whether or not to buy this product.

But consumers and voters are fickle and complex. For example, a large majority of Americans believe it is important for the occupant of the Oval Office to lead an ethical and moral life, according to a survey published in 2020 by the Pew Research Center, a Washington-based think tank. , DC. Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters, however, are more likely than Republicans and Republican-leaning voters to say it’s “very” important (71% vs. 53%). And yet less the Democratic group (30%) than the Republican group (47%) say it’s “very” important to have a president to defend their religious beliefs.

Price increases are not only seen as a sign of a product shortage, but also lead to strong and polarized moral responses.

Simone Polillo, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia who teaches a course on money and morals, wrote about the contradictions and misconceptions about how money affects morality, and how money itself is a democratic tool (with a “d”) small given. that governments issue money and that political communities can decide how to spend it and, indeed, whether to spend it. Polillo recently wrote to the University of Virginia’s UVA Today newspaper: “Thinkers as different as Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and Georg Simmel made some version of the argument that whenever there is money, it’s when morale stops.” .

Money, Polillo wrote, is intrinsically related to morality, whether it is a bank manager or a customer. On a personal level, rather than a political one, he points out how the loan is based on algorithms rather than a handshake in your local bank, and these algorithms are based on policies created by a broad political and social infrastructure. “Think of the arcane, intricate, and often controversial practices that make up the culture of tipping in the United States: how much, when, and to whom to tip are issues that can rarely be resolved by simple quantitative calculations of the kind that bothered you so much. to Marx “.

As moral issues become more and more a catalyst for attracting and engaging voters amid heated debate everywhere on Twitter TWTR,
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To wedge news, political analysts say parties will continue to strengthen their base using hot moral issues, even as the country becomes more politically polarized. “The Democratic Party has shifted more to the left to appeal to these voters, while the Republican Party has shifted more to the right to keep its voters rich,” Wu said. “Some of these rich voters went from Republicans to Democrats.”

And these forces, observers say, further divide a country that seems increasingly incapable of agreeing on everything from climate change to a global pandemic.



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