Some analysis of the 2017 General Election in the UK has been published in the Financial Times, which seems to indicate that people without a university degree, who were working class, and had poor health. Were more likely to vote for the Conservative party (who are politically right wing). Indeed throughout this election campaign polling seems to indicate that working class voter tend to vote conservative.

This phenomenon however is not limited to the UK, in 2016 non-college educated and blue-collar workers flocked to support Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Although the point surrounding Trump could partially be talked of as a backlash against globalisation etc etc and that, it's undeniable at least that at least some portion of the working class electorate are inherently on the political right

In France

55 per cent of manual workers say they will vote for her[Marine Le Pen]

Who was perhaps one of the farthest right candidates to make it to the 2nd round of the French Presidential s.

Now I'm looking at this from a British perspective, but "left-wing" parties in the UK such as the Labour Party, started off as the "workers" parties and were initially at least almost exclusively voted for by the "working-class". Working class interests were at least theoretically served best by left wing parties e.g. setting/raising the minimum wage, Universal Free healthcare, the welfare state, social security etc. Indeed left wing policy on paper at least seems to serve the working class better, for example several of the Labour party flagship proposals such as abolition tuition fees and cutting zero hours contracts and increasing the minimum wage were in the direct interests of working class voters who wanted their children to go to university with reduced debt, who were on the breadline and needed job security, so why are the working class moving right? Why are they voting against their own (theoretical) economic interests?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Jun 14 '17 at 14:59
  • Voting is still free and secret. The question should formulate more cautiously, we don't know if this is really what happened and there is no way to be sure. Also, I think that the large percentage of people not voting at all has been ignored. Most workers may not vote at all. – Trilarion Aug 30 '19 at 16:19
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    At least with regard to healthcare (Obamacare) workers in the US voting Republican shoot themselves in the foot, but they did so in the full knowledge, the GOP didn't hide its intentions there. I guess this means that some workers really prefer no affordable healthcare to "socialized" medicine. – Trilarion Aug 30 '19 at 16:27
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    I'm surprised "temporarily embarrassed millionaires" hasn't come up yet – benxyzzy Sep 3 '19 at 18:05

11 Answers 11


How could so many rich men like George Clooney and Bill Gates vote for Hillary Clinton? After all, she openly said that she thought it was sexist to hire a man (Donald Trump) over a woman (her). And we all know that she wanted higher taxes on better off people compared to Donald Trump.

No one seems to ask that question.

Perhaps they simply didn't understand her positions. They thought she was better for them, but they were wrong. Quite possible.

A simpler explanation though is that we are classifying them incorrectly. They are not primarily rich men. They are liberal people. Perhaps they care more about how the money is spent than how much they are going to provide.

Similarly, people classified as working class, no college education, and/or bad health by polls may classify themselves differently. They could be unemployed due to globalization dislocations, religious conservatives, anti-abortion proponents, rich (e.g. Bill Gates is a college dropout, so he shows up in the no college degree statistics), former coal miners, believers in a stronger military, pragmatic foreign policy, or just supporters of law enforcement.

It's also possible that they have a better understanding of how economic policies are going to affect them than you do. Some may actually remember the world under the more liberal economic policies of the 1970s and don't want to go back. Or they may simply have more reason to compare their specific circumstances to the policies and better understand the individual impacts.

Perhaps they have different views of the world. It's interesting that the places with the most inequality in the United States are overwhelmingly run by Democrats: the District of Columbia; New York; Connecticut. The three with the least inequality are run by Republicans: Utah; Alaska; Wyoming. Is it surprising that Democrat dominated states' voters think that inequality is really important? And Republicans don't?

There's a similar statistic with regards to net payments. Democratic states pay more in taxes than they receive in outlays. Republican states receive more in outlays than they pay in taxes. From one perspective, Republican states would be better off with increased outlays, because they get more back than they pay. And Democrats would be worse off. But from another perspective, Democrats are accurately describing their problem, too few outlays. And Republicans are accurately describing theirs, too many outlays.

In 2006 and 2008, young people voted overwhelmingly for Democrats. But Democrats at that time were accusing Republicans of wanting to cut Social Security benefits. Young people aren't going to receive Social Security benefits for forty years or more. Shouldn't they have been voting Republican in those elections?

Perhaps people aren't driven by narrow, short term self-interest as much as politicians think.

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    Interesting way of looking at it. – acpilot Jun 11 '17 at 3:21
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    And don't forget about the Ecological Fallacy. Even if, for example, the “red states” have more people on food stamps, are the actual recipients voting Republican? Or does the presence of a large welfare-dependent class provoke “anti-moocher” sentiment in the other residents of those states? – dan04 Jun 13 '17 at 0:52
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    Citation needed for Clinton's statement. – user Aug 30 '19 at 10:10
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    No one asks such a question because they know the answer. Their side votes the way they do for selfless altruistic reasons, not self-interest. Whereas the other side votes against their own interest because they are idiots.As soon as someone asks such a question (e.g. the OP) they identify which side they are one. – A Simple Algorithm Aug 30 '19 at 13:41
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    @hkBst principles only matter if they go against one's personal gain. I'd say both rich and poor people are fully capable of having or lacking them. – A Simple Algorithm Sep 2 '19 at 4:00

As someone previously mentioned, Trump promised more jobs for blue collar workers. He said it could be done by changing the trade deals, reducing immigration and leaving the climate agreement. Maybe not everyone believed that, but Hillary didn't even give them hope.

Another reason is the 'white privilege' rhetoric invented by the left. It makes sense at those wealthy universities, where the rich white people sent their kids. However there are a lot of hard working white Americans, that haven't had any vacations in years. After working hard the whole day they try to relax in front of TV and all they hear is 'you are the bad guy'.

The last reason is the culture war declared by the left. The culture still matters for many. They may not like Trump, but since he declared himself for their cause, they have no other choice, but to support him.

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  • However hard working and downtrodden they are, an equally hard working and downtrodden non-white person is worse off. The argument is not (nor presented as) either/or, but rather "all things being equal". So the emphasis is very heavily on the "they hear" part of your description. The argument they hear (that they're the bad guys because -all things being equal- whites have it better than non-whites) is not the one presented to them. They are seeing enemies in their minds because of this focus on zero-sum. – benxyzzy Sep 3 '19 at 18:15
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    Citation needed for the claim that the "non-white person is worse off". – Dunk Sep 12 '19 at 17:51

I can't answer for the US, but in the UK the rational arguments that you propose for supporting the left don't necessarily apply to individual blue-collar workers. For example:

  • Aspiring to a "free" university education is irrelevant, if you live in an area with "sink" secondary schools which don't even offer the examination courses you need to qualify for university entrance. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-36674622 for example of an entire Borough with only a 2% university admission rate, where the last state-funded school offering these qualifications has stopped doing so.

  • Many blue collar workers are, or aspire to be, in the "cash" or "black" economy, so issues like the minimum wage and social security are irrelevant (for example claiming social security entails the risk of being caught for other "dubious" practices).

  • Since blue collar jobs are usually unskilled, wages are easily undercut. The minimum wage legislation doesn't have much practical significance when employers can freely introduce "zero hours" working contracts. Hence the blue-collar opposition to "foreign workers" from the EU. The Labour party's position on this has been at best ambivalent, and often perceived as supporting "remain" rather than "leave" (and providing a minimum wage and "free" social security for migrants) whatever the leadership may actually say.

The days when the majority of the working class were "organized" by the Trade Union movement (which bankrolled the Labour party) and voted they way the union leaders told them to vote have long gone. The Labour governments following Thatcher's conservative government have never reversed Thatcher's restrictions on trade union power in the 1980s. (Ironically, the single issue that consumed the most parliamentary time in the Labour governments was the abolition of fox hunting - a topic of no interest to most of the working classes, except for the "tree huggers".) Total union membership in the UK has now shrunk to its level in the 1940s, and is still declining by a few percent per year. Adjusting for the growth in population, the current level would be even lower than in the 1940s.

The current political reality is that neither the left or right wing "mainstream" parties can command a majority without appealing to the center vote, and the only (temporarily) credible "extremist" parties have been on the right - for example UKIP and the British National Party, both of which seem to have now imploded after their "15 minutes of fame".

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    If you could clarify a couple of things about your first and third bullet point: 1) Merseyside is one of the most reliably Labour places in the country so does the example given of inability to go to university apply? and 2) Cant this be countered by the fact the Labour party wantes to abolish zero hour contracts? – SleepingGod Jun 11 '17 at 7:13
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    This reads like you think workers have given up in the UK. Nothing you mention is something the right is good at. – Trilarion Aug 30 '19 at 16:21

There's a lot of research, analysis, punditry, and opinion on this topic. So I don't know that there is any definitive answer to this. But here's some bullet points to hopefully add to the answers.

This Forbes article posits some reasons as to we don't always vote in our best interests (paraphrased):

  • Overwhelmed by the choices and complexities, we tend to focus on superficial qualities

  • We may be looking for too-simple explanations

  • We may be distracted by the wrong issues

  • We don't see the whole system and all the connections, causes and effects

  • We don't know ourselves

Specific to the last election in the US, this WaPo article suggests

...Democratic policies probably would help the white working class. But the white working class doesn’t seem to buy that they’re the ones who’d really benefit.

This NPR story points out:

Researchers have long been confused by what seems like a paradox: many people in America vote against their economic self-interests

and provides this answer

In her new book, Strangers in Their Own Land, sociologist Arlie Hochschild tackles this paradox. She says that while people might vote against their economic needs, they're actually voting to serve their emotional needs.

I could quote more articles. While there seems to be agreement that a lot of working class people certainly do not vote in their economic best interest, there isn't necessarily specific agreement as to why beyond the broad bullet points mentioned above.

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    Your first quote from the washington post answers the OP's question and at the same time points out the fallacy of their second question. Basically, the working class does not see the democrats as supporting them. Obama for 8 years and for the first time in the overwhelming majority's lives they were worse off or no better than when a president came into office. The last time that happened was Jimmy Carter. OTOH, Trump had common sense REAL solutions and the working class did vote in their self-interest. It is the pundits claiming otherwise who are wrong in who is better for the working class. – Dunk Sep 12 '19 at 17:59

In the US, the answer is fairly simple. Hillary Clinton campaigned on or openly supported lenient trade deals that exported jobs (her opposition to TPP was shown to be false). She also campaigned on more open immigration, inviting more people in to compete for the jobs remaining.

Trump campaigned on tighter trade deals, lower immigration, and policies to generate more jobs in the US.

If you're a working class person, who has seen jobs exported to other nations and is worried about their ability to support their family, which candidate do you vote for?

Since the conservatives in the UK are opposed to more immigration to bring more people into the UK to compete for the jobs available, that may be the reason that working class people are leaning towards the conservative candidates.

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    But the answer isn't that simple. Plenty of analysis has been shown that there were multitudes of reasons as to why this demographic voted Trump. The logic is also weak with this argument given how anti-union the Trump side is (not to mention that Trump literally does not pay his workers)--which one could easily argue is a perfect reason for the working class to not vote for him. – user1530 Jun 11 '17 at 17:56
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    I disagree. That is what I heard from avid Trump supporters - he ran on an America first, jobs for Americans first platform, and they liked that, because they have seen many of their jobs shipped overseas courtesy of lenient trade deals, and they're worried about their future. Also reflected in the normally dem working class states that put trump over the top. That sentiment still exists, by the way, something the current democratic party might do well to remember. If anything, I'm very disappointed in the dem party, for its failure to reflect on its basic mistakes that made the 2016 defeat. – tj1000 Jun 12 '17 at 15:19

Why are they voting against their own (theoretical) economic interests?

Individuals do not vote logically, because the expectation that they are rational agents who behave in such a way is demonstrably false.

In his 2011 book, 'Thinking, Fast and Slow', Daniel Kahneman explains behavioural economics, and why people make irrational decisions. Part of his assessment makes the distinction between 'econs' and 'humans'.

Econs are the rational ideal of how humans ought to be, as presumed by classical economics and other older beliefs about human agency. However, nobody in the real world is an econ. The closest to them are psychopaths and economists. The vast majority of humans behave in irrational ways, guided by many intuitive cognitive biases.

Consequently, your expectation of human behaviour is fundamentally incorrect. There are other historical aspects to consider, but they are dwarfed by this main point.

It's worth remembering that there was never a time when workers unanimously voted for working-class politics. The Russian Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, the twilight of the Weimar Republic, are all examples of societies in crisis where the working class was divided on the question of who to support.

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  • This answer deserves more votes! – Jan Sep 10 '19 at 11:56

Setting already mentioned and absolutely right point "People do NOT necessary vote according to their short term interests and we're not perplexed when a rich person express willingness to pay slightly higher taxes", I see one point that was missing. Why exactly are we assuming that working class interests are actually specially well represented nowadays by the left? Yes, I fully agree high taxes for rich and safety net for the poor is something appreciated by the working class. Just the problem is that many positions of contemporary left look as the interests of the working class were to be sacrificed for some greater good:

1) Migration issue:

  • If the supply of low skill labour goes up, then its price goes down. Just in this specific case policy of the left is directly leading to wage stagnation.

  • New arrivals, (unless we talk about high skill labour) even after a while would be overproportionally likely to be genuinely in need. Thus for practical purposes they would drain safety net system, so those being contemporary working class would receive less.

  • Crime surge - people from ME and Africa tend to show statically speaking higher crime rates. So people living in poorer districts (yes, the working class) would be hit. Let's say that UK track record with fighting grooming gangs is not awe inspiring.

2) War on global warming:

  • In other words price increase of petrol, electricity and heating, which is especially painful for the poorer part of the society. Already exploded in France in form Yellow Vest Movement. Add to it left wing activists seems to remain happy to use jets, including private jet travel so an observer may reach a conclusion that great change of lifestyle to combat climate change is something that for practical purposes applies the most to the working class.

3) From a perspective of a white working class male everyone else is either a protected class or rich and powerful enough to have a priority over them which puts them neatly at the bottom.

For extra fun left establishment is mostly affluent enough to be shielded from those genuine interests, so when confronted with them interprets all those issues as some form of bigotry and narrow mindedness.

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  • The statistically observed differences in crime rates tend to disappear if one considers various other factors that are often glossed over. In short and very simplified, young, poor males are statistically more criminal than those missing at least one of those characteristics and the people migrating from the Middle East and North Africa tend to be younger, poorer and have a higher proportion of males than other populations. I have seen one statistic for Germany where the difference between ethnic Germans and others completely disappears if these factors are taken into account. – Jan Sep 10 '19 at 11:54
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    @Jan "Controlling" for poverty, is effectively saying that an ethnic group is seriously over represented among NEETS, but their NEETS are not worse than local NEETS. ;) Sort of true. Just implicitly clings on assumption, that poverty is directly a causal factor, and not for example that failure to comply with local norms decreases carrier prospects and increases chances to get in to conflict with law. – Shadow1024 Sep 10 '19 at 13:06

Economist Thomas Piketty aims to address this in his book, Capital and Ideology. One of the main themes is that the base of support for left-leaning parties has shifted from those with less formal education to those with more. It also argues that while voting behavior has become less class-based overall, higher-income voters are shifting towards the right-wing and there is a growing polarization of nativists versus globalists. Underlying all of this is the general structural economic changes associated with globalization and automation.

Here is a blog article by political scientist Jan Rovny who comments:

The traditional industrial working class has almost disappeared from developed societies. It has been made redundant through the exodus of industrial production to less-developed countries, it has been displaced by machines, robots and computers, and to its socio-political position came large swathes of lower grade service workers – the restaurant staff, the drivers, the cleaners. They are today the ‘working class’ of developed societies.

But these people, dispersed in their daily tasks carried out in isolation from one another, do not share the collective identity and the organisation potential historically present on the factory floor. Atomised, these workers of today have no historical affinity with, nor current ability to mobilise in any significant political organisation or party. The structurally driven disappearance of the industrial working class led left parties to ensure their survival by turning towards the progressive socio-cultural professionals. Silja Häusermann has demonstrated how over the course of the last few decades, social democratic and labour parties have become the parties of the educated, (public sector) white collar middle-classes.


The old industrial working class was never inherently culturally progressive, but its left-wing parties, steeped in the internationalism of Marxist ideology and led by educated ‘Brahmin’ elites, such as Jean Jaurès or Léon Blum, translated working class authoritarian tendencies into a fight for universalistic social progress. They replaced nationalistic tendencies of the working classes with socialist internationalism. The great structural transformation, reflected in the educational flip, resulted in the severing of the ties between the working classes and the parties of the left, leaving these populations in political drift, free to descend towards cultural particularism.

The severing of this connection is as much due to the strategies of the parties (their turn towards the educated socio-cultural professionals), as to the fundamental social reconstitution of the ‘working class’. Today, left-wing cultural conservatives, overwhelmingly made up of the new service underclasses, and other downgraded or under-skilled middle classes are indeed politically lonely. Both because almost no one reaches out to them, and because they have no socio-historical affinities with any political family and no mobilisation capacity of their own.

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In the UK the Conservative party presents an aspirational ideal. The basic idea is that you work hard and should jealously guard the wealth you have, to accumulate more. Furthermore they promoted the idea that many working class people are actually middle class, and thus natural Conservative voters.

There is also the blame game. Blame immigrants, blame criminals, blame people supposedly abusing the benefits system. All easy targets with no voice of their own. The Labour Party, the main left leaning force in UK politics, has generally shied away from that kind of populism, but the Tories seem happy to abuse it.

In the US there is a somewhat similar concept called the American Dream. The idea that anyone can make it if they work hard, so don't vote for anything that might slightly reduce you hard-earned well deserved wealth that is surely coming to you in the future.

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    Have you considered possibility that people used in "the blame game" technically speaking actually have some interests that are contrary to interest of the working class? – Shadow1024 Aug 30 '19 at 11:17
  • @Shadow1024 yes. For example, immigration has been repeatedly shown to be not only a net positive for everyone including the working class, but also good for the working class specifically. At most any impact on them is extremely small, and certainly not the cause of all the things that they are blamed for. – user Aug 30 '19 at 12:55
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    @Shadow1024 crime has been falling for decades. Benefit abuse does happen but is vastly exaggerated, and not helped by irresponsible reporting and TV shows like "Benefits Street". In reality most benefit claimants are in work, i.e. they are the working class. – user Aug 30 '19 at 12:57
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    @user I'd note that those "extremely small" effects many economic studies find, like "only" a 3 percent drop in wages, is extremely problematic for someone earning barely enough to get by. Instead of a cost of living increase over the years they have to make increasing cutbacks. Plus of course those numbers are averages, some fields see precipitous drops in wages as the labor supply goes up. But after a career in one job, a working class person can't nimbly move to the new growth area like skilled professionals can. At the very least it is a major source of stress and problems. – A Simple Algorithm Aug 30 '19 at 13:29
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    @user Are you suggesting that even when a study finds lower wages from immigration, it also finds lower unemployment (in both cases for the working class)? No I don't believe this is always (or even often) the claim. – A Simple Algorithm Aug 31 '19 at 20:18

Perhaps the problem is the conflation of workers, the poor, and leftist politics.

Historically, the left represented workers, who tended to be underpaid and subject to harsh conditions.

Today, thanks in a large part to those leftists, workers have it much better.

Leftists don't necessarily support workers, they support groups that they believe are incapable of defending themselves. So now the leftists aren't fighting for workers; the social justice warriors have found other more deserving groups to represent. The pathetic people that the left fights for used to be the working class, but not anymore.

Most people that work for wages or salaries are doing well, and they now can easily move to another job if it suits them. Today's workers see their hard gained and hard earned money being taxed away to pay for socialist policies.

The main problem with the original question is that it incorrectly assumes that the working class (i.e. those that work for a living) are still the same people as are living in poverty and getting government assistance.

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Because of home sales.

Here you can see that a fifth of home sales are over the top income bracket (518,401 as of now). Many working class people own homes that have inflated to that level.

Furthermore, Democrats are much more likely to be renters and not homeowners.

Because it's so easy to join the 1% by simply being a fairly above average home owner, it is in the working class interest to care about the highest tax rates. It's not simply the overall wealth, but the type of wealth that Republicans own. Republicans are poorer, but more rural, and therefore can more easily obtain a house.

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  • That's for the us. In the eu there are sales taxes that work the same way – user33830 Aug 28 at 3:57

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