38

Consider the following premises, for which I think there is fair degree of consensus (at least according to my knowledge of political history of Latin America, but perhaps more broadly):

  • the majority of rich individuals vote for right wing parties

  • there is no clear voting pattern among the poor regarding left and right wing parties

  • right wing parties favour policies that, even if they might benefit the poor, they certainly benefit the rich (e.g. low taxation, privatisation of companies, free trade, etc)

  • left wing parties favour policies that, even if they might benefit the rich, they certainly benefit the poor (e.g. higher taxation, more subsidies, more public services at lower costs, protectionist policies, etc)

Then, a natural question arises. Why are the rich more able to identify the party which represents their (class) interests (i.e. right-wing) than the poor?

Possible hypothesis that I have think of are:

  • higher education allow for better understanding of policies
  • media mainly in control of right-wing parties, obscuring/altering information to the poor
  • politicians are normally upper class, so the poor cannot identify easily with them
  • demagogic politicians from the right can lure poor voters to them, whereas demagogic politicians from the left cannot lure rich voters to them (but why?)
  • left-wing policies are much more evident to be at expenses of the rich than right-wing policies are to be at expenses of the poor. E.g. higher taxes clearly mean taxing the rich more, whereas lower taxes does not directly affect taxation of the poor.

How do different political theory explain this? An answer with references would be greatly appreciated.

Edit (more to come...): as it is natural to expect that a lot of the focus is in the US (as the question was originally phrased in such a way), the evidence in terms of voting patters by income level in the US is not entirely evident in supporting the premises. In general, the likelihood of voting Republican increases with income (see page 50 here) and it is still high for the lowest income. It could be that the proportion voting Democrat among the high income individuals might be higher than its respective proportion for the poor (see here). In the UK the story is slightly more supportive, especially because the rich tend mainly to vote conservative. The poor give a lot of votes to Labour and a less proportion to conservative.

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    Is being "favorable" to those with assets/capital necessarily a negative for those with less assets/capital. I hope, one day, to have assets and capital of greater value than I have now. Lower taxes will help me do that.(Low) Income-based subsidies/services do not, as they encourage me to make less money (e.g. stay poor). The premise of this question is flawed. – James H Jul 26 '17 at 19:51
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    Many people don't vote for the party that best serves their "self interests". Rather they vote for the party that interests them -- in terms of catering to their prejudices, etc. The rich are interested in earning more money, even though it does them little good and does not serve to improve their quality of life -- relaxing and worrying less about money would serve them better. – Hot Licks Jul 26 '17 at 22:03
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    @HotLicks "relaxing and worrying less about money would serve them better." Then they'd probably not be rich. – NPSF3000 Jul 27 '17 at 14:51
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    Higher taxes do not always affect the rich. Sales tax overwhelmingly affects the poor because they spend a greater percentage of their income on consumables. Cigarette taxes also overwhelmingly affect the poor. Both of those taxes are pushed by left-wing parties. – Chloe Jul 27 '17 at 15:58
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    @Chloe Cigarette (and tobacco and alcohol) taxes are often expressed as a way of desincentivating its use, or to get the user to pay for the externalities (treatment of diseases, etc.). And the left wing parties that I know of are against sales taxes and for direct (income & profits) taxes. – SJuan76 Sep 4 '17 at 14:04
78

Why are “the rich” more able to identify the party which represent their interests than “the poor”?

Mostly, because your assumption is just that, an assumption, and is an incorrect one at that.

I won't go down the rabbit hole of disputing your Marx-influenced class based assumption that somehow, left wing parties[1] represent interests of "the poor" and the right wing parties of "the rich", even though that assumption is also largely wrong[2].

(as food for thought: would you rather be "the poor" in Venezuela or the USSR, or in USA or UK? As a basic fact, you may want to look at a number of people trying to - legally and illegally - immigrate to USA vs. # of poor people from USA trying to emigrate to more left wing countries. Cuba is, after all, just a boat ride away from Florida)

I will only look at the other side of your assumption that "the rich" somehow solidly identify with right/conservative side.

At least in the USA, the number of the "rich" who identify with the party which you claim "doesn't represent their interests" is staggeringly high (40% by now) and keeps rising.


First, general research (I tried to pick left of centre media, since they don't have incentive to make stuff up if it sounds worse for Democrats):

  • From staunchly Trump-hating Washington Post's "Tech billionaires like Democrats more than Republicans. Here’s why":

    As much as Republicans, the Democrats are now also the party of billionaires.

    (their source is research by Adam Bonica, )

    The same research is covered by Forbes, giving exact #s:

    The next time you hear Senator Bernie Sanders rail against the nefarious influence of “millionaires and billionaires,” it might be important to know that 39% of the nation’s wealthiest donors are backing Democrats more than Republicans this election. Even more interesting, the number of card carrying liberal titans is likely to increase dramatically, as billionaires from new industries, especially Silicon Valley, are unambiguously Democratic cheerleaders*.

  • From New York Times' "How Did the Democrats Become Favorites of the Rich?"

    Democrats now depend as much on affluent voters as on low-income voters. Democrats represent a majority of the richest congressional districts, and the party’s elected officials are more responsive to the policy agenda of the well-to-do than to average voters. The party and its candidates have come to rely on the elite 0.01 percent of the voting age population for a quarter of their financial backing and on large donors for another quarter.

    ...

    In 2014, the median income of households in Democratic districts was higher than in Republican districts, $53,358 to $51,834. Democrats represent seven of the 10 most affluent districts, measured by household income (four in California, two in Virginia and one in New York). Democrats also represent a majority of the 100 most affluent districts, 54-46.


Second, let's look at actual "very rich" - top billionaires.

Here's Fortune's list of billionaires who supported Clinton

Looking down Forbes richest list:

  1. Bill Gates

    Exact political views aren't widely known overall (but is definitely socially liberal, with most of his extremely huge philanthropy set to benefit 3rd world and alleviate poverty). The most factual approach is to go off his political donations which go more to Democrats than Republicans.

    Evidence points to him being a Democrat supporter (Hinting at supporting Clinton; attending Obama fundraiser and expressing support for Obama)

  2. Warren Buffet

    Registered Democrat, supported and endorsed both Obama and Clinton, donates more to DNC.

  3. Jeff Bezos

    Democrat supporter

  4. Amancio Ortega

    He's from Spain, no idea of his politics. Casual googling didn't help

  5. Mark Zuckerberg

    I admit this surprised me. I expected him to be an outspoken Democrat, but he's registered as neither, was publicly quoted explicitly stating he's neither, and donated to both parties.

    Most reports are ambiguous (1; 2-Wiki); but he's clearly socially liberal in his views, regardless of political party leanings.


[1] - insert my usual rant that "left" and "right" are often merely meaningless vague labels and single-axis model doesn't adequately explain political ideology. Having said that, in a system with 2 or 3 major parties like US and UK, the parties themselves CAN be labeled as more or less left-or-right

[2] - In short, the "certainty" asserted in the updated text of the answer is anything BUT certain. Higher taxation doesn't necessarily benefit the poor (Laffer curve, the OECD-documented negative effects of corporate taxes on GDP). Also, history seems to show that countries where the Left won and established socialism, ended up with nightmarishly low standards of living for the poor, far less than that of capitalist Western countries' poor anywhere not using oil exports to pump up living standards artificially (USSR except 1970s, Venezuela post-Chavez, North Korea, pre-Deng China).

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    @luchonacho - to the best of my knowledge (I admit I'm not 100% sure) unquestionably right wing Pinochet government was far better for the poor economically than left wing ones (and as my answer noted, look at how well left wing governments served people in Venezuela etc....). Again, you're making an assumption - unwarranted one - that something that claims to be better for the poor, actually is. As noted right-winger Bono said, "Capitalism Takes More People Out of Poverty Than Aid". Having seen the quality of life under socialism personally, I agree. – user4012 Jul 24 '17 at 15:39
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    Re "...just a boar ride away from Florida...", that ought to be fun :-) But seriously, remember when hijacking planes to Cuba was a thing? Has anyone ever studied what happened to those hijackers? – jamesqf Jul 24 '17 at 18:09
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    @jamesqf - i'm not familiar with the details, but I bet you 100 rep that those highjackers did NOT try to flee to Cuba out of personal economic desperation in USA – user4012 Jul 24 '17 at 18:54
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    @luchonacho It doesn't sound intentional, but your language and basic assumptions are certainly with a strong Marxist tinge (I'm from a formerly-communist country, so I know how easily "education" does this). There's no "classes" (most poor people don't stay poor and the same with rich), no "class interests" (you don't benefit from other poor people getting benefits), inequality is not inherently bad, as long as the capitalist makes any profit at all (including capital expenses), all of the taxes are really on their employees anyway. Capitalism doesn't benefit capitalists - protectionism does. – Luaan Jul 25 '17 at 11:23
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    @luchonacho A lot of the modern ideas of "taxation to help the poor" is just manipulation from the people who have money (and power) now. If you wanted to become a taxi driver, you wouldn't want taxi services to be regulated; but once you already have your license, that's exactly what you want. The same way, those huge corporations don't really care about taxes all that much (easier to avoid taxation, get subsidies etc.). But the same taxes make it much harder for newcomers to bring competition. In effect, it's little different from the government-sponsored monopolies of the past. – Luaan Jul 25 '17 at 11:30
67

There are so many false assumptions in your question. But one that wasn't addressed by the other answers is this:

There are a lot of people who vote based on their moral principles. Whether rich or poor, one can believe that the proper role of government is to help to poor. Or one can believe that charity should not be compelled by law. One can believe that abortion is a woman's moral right and vote accordingly whether one is a woman or not or personally benefits or is harmed by abortion policy.

A rich person and a poor person can have precisely the same beliefs about the proper role of government in society. And they can each vote based on their views, regardless of whether they believe that benefits them or harms them.

There is also a tremendous amount of indirect harm or benefit. I'm a man. Regardless of my moral views, why should I care whether abortion is legal or illegal since it won't directly affect me? Well, even ignoring the moral argument or arguments about the proper role of government, I have a mother, sisters, and daughters. My son may have a wife. It is antisocial to ignore the affects of government policy on others to be irrelevant when you vote.

Perhaps people aren't as cynical as you imagine and vote what they believe is right and what they believe will be best for everyone. Not everyone believes that everyone should vote their personal interest and it will all somehow all work itself out.

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    This is almost a fully bipartisan answer. Nicely done on including both sides of the argument regarding helping the poor vs. compelling charity by law. My suggestion is that you do the same on the abortion topic. Whether you do or don't, though, you have my vote for a great insight and pertinent answer. – Wildcard Jul 25 '17 at 5:03
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    You might be interesting in this question. Yes, people vote for many reasons, but economic ones is a hugely important, particularly in countries with multiple parties, where identification with parties is low, like in Latin America. Plus this. Abortion is pretty down the list. – luchonacho Jul 25 '17 at 6:04
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    I'm not sure why people are cynical by voting for their economic interest. – luchonacho Jul 25 '17 at 6:34
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    This answer highlights a problem with the original question: how does the moral dimension align with the economic dimension? In a multi-party system, there's no reason to expect they align. In a two-party system (First Past the Post) however, the such alignment is forced, and you typically get a left/right split, although you can also get a big government/small government split. – MSalters Jul 25 '17 at 9:37
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    @luchonacho I'm saying that it's cynical to expect other people to consistently vote their own economic interest rather than their moral principles. It's akin to expecting everyone to steal if they can get away with it. (I'm not black and neither is anyone in my close family. If we kill all the black people, there's more for me and others who look like me. But I certainly wouldn't vote for a proposal to kill all dark skinned people because it's morally abhorrent. Common political issues are not this extreme, but the principle is the same.) – David Schwartz Jul 25 '17 at 17:24
17

Your question fails to take into account that not everyone is concerned with how taxation affects them. I can comfortably say that because I don't make that much in the grand scheme of things taxation policy has to swing pretty wildly to make much of a difference for me to care. I am generally left leaning, but not because of my strong opinions on fiscal policy issues. If I pay a few extra dollars in taxes to save millions for Warren Buffet or the Koch Brothers or George Soros, or Donald trump, it's not enough for me to actively be angry about.

That said, those four individuals (and the two groups they are parts of) might take other non-economical stances that I am more concerned with. There are lots of other issues for people to take strong stances on that the two parties are so diametrically opposed on. I for one am a single issue voter on environmental issues -- I don't care very much for fiscal policy, but nothing gets on my nerves more than "I stand with coal country" bumper stickers. There are issues that gather single policy voters as well, here is a small (definitely non exhaustive) list of things people might vote on despite other damaging (to that voter) policies taken by the party they vote for.

  • LGBT Rights
  • Legalization of Abortion
  • Legalization of certain Drugs
  • Restriction of firearms
  • Environmental issues
  • Religious freedom
  • Stance on terror
  • Domestic Police Policy

Edit: Apart from my answer, this question has some serious classist undertones. Assuming the poor are unable to understand what they want in a politician leads to the assumption that the poor need to be guided by an external entity for their own good. Making policies decisions with this mindset never turns out well.

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    But evidence seems to support the idea that economic factors are the most important ones. See here. – luchonacho Jul 25 '17 at 6:10
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    @luchonacho: But that is one view taken in the midst of an election campaign in which there was not a lot of difference between the two candidates on other issues. – jamesqf Jul 25 '17 at 6:17
  • @jamesqf Not sure that is correct. Religion (a central element in republican identification) was a difference. In any case, focusing too much on the US is not helpful, as my question goes beyond that country, and perhaps is more pertinent for other countries. – luchonacho Jul 25 '17 at 6:22
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    I don't take your politically correct approach that a phenomenon that (imo) is roughly correct (many poor voting against their interest) cannot be stated. Are you denying the role of education in improving our understanding of the world? Are you denying the role of media in shaping views (e.g. against immigrant in Brexit?), not necessarily through arguments but through rhetoric means like appeal to emotions and fear? – luchonacho Jul 25 '17 at 6:38
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    @luchonacho Not really. Both the main US parties are very much Christian parties. That "central element in republican identification" is based on silly claims that the US was built as a "Christian republic" (nope, it was secular), appealing to nationalism and intolerance, and is a rather recent development - part of the ongoing meaningless polarisation of the mainly two-party politics. Democrats are still mostly Christians, and they still have their "Christian values" - just selectively quoting different parts of the Bible :) – Luaan Jul 25 '17 at 11:51
13

From the viewpoint of someone born into a sub-working class family (my grandfather died in his early thirties leaving his family in Dickensian poverty), I would observe that “working class” is not an intrinsic human characteristic. But the “working” aspect is real. I worked my way through seven years of trade schools (engineering and law) to gain middle class standing. With a good bit of risk taking my children and I have gained rather comfortable financial positions.

The problem with high taxation is that it locks individual into fixed financial status. Taxation is on income rather than the distractor wealth. Income is the rate of change of wealth I.e. no net income, no gain in wealth. And high wealth individuals really don’t need much income per se. They can let their investments ride at corporate tax rates, but only one layer of taxation. Perhaps at some level working class people recognize that with high income taxation their rather remote chance of striking it rich diminishes.

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    @luchonacho -Left wing is all about using money generated by taxation to pay for their priorities (income redistribution - like "subsidies, more public services at lower costs" your question edit mentions - being the chief one but not the only one). TANSTAAFL. As such, finding a left wing politician who is against raising taxes is... challenging. A whole party, impossible. What you describe would fit with libertarians - more freedom both socially and economically, not typical modern "economically authoritarian" "left" wing (and why I whine and moan about "left" vs "right" labels being useless) – user4012 Jul 24 '17 at 19:05
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    My premise is that all individuals desire the opportunity to better themselves, if not for their immediate benefit, for the benefit of their children –and theirs. My concern is that security has displaced the freedom to seek opportunity should you not be a silver spoon offspring. The government can shortstop such ambitions but can mostly stay out of the way to promote them. – TomO Jul 24 '17 at 22:14
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    Why does high taxation lock individuals into fixed financial status? This seems like a huge oversimplification. (And why is having a fixed financial status mutually exclusive with bettering one's self, as your comment implies? It's unfortunate when bettering one's self amounts to making more money.) – AmagicalFishy Jul 25 '17 at 3:37
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    @MSalters There's taxes on wealth, but those aren't important for most poor people (that is, people who start with no wealth of their own). Progressive (and to a lesser extent, even non-regressive) income tax is. It creates large gaps where increase in skill and effort produces barely any increase in real income, and thus discourages improving your economic situation (legally). Various "poor benefits" (also financed through taxation/inflation) can make this even worse as you stop being eligible, potentially lowering your real income outright. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. – Luaan Jul 25 '17 at 11:43
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    In another universe, you acquired a life-changing illness or injury through no fault of your own and without socialised health care and subsidies you dropped out of school and fell deeper into poverty. At that point, your perspective on income taxes as a throttle on opportunity, rather than a boon, reversed. This sort of reasoning is of a kind with "I-don't-need-car-insurance-because-I'm-a-good-driver." More to the point: working class people do not recognize that their "remote chance of striking it rich" has anything to do with taxation because it doesn't. – rob Jul 25 '17 at 21:46
8

Very interesting, yet very complex question, to discuss in a few lines. First of all, need to clarify the subject a bit. Every political party is nothing but a mirror of the class it represents. Thus, political parties function as agents of the interests of the social group or class they come from, as Gramsci has pointed out.

“Although every party is the expression of a social group, and of one social group only, nevertheless in certain given conditions certain parties represent a single social group precisely in so far as they exercise a balancing and arbitrating function between the interests of their group and those of other groups, and succeed in securing the development of the group which they represent with the consent and assistance of the allied groups – if not out and out with that of groups which are definitely hostile.”

[] Antonio Gramsci, Selections From Prison Notebooks, ibid., p. 148.

Thus, speaking about the Western democracies (EU & USA), since the ruling parties are not working-class parties, they implement anti-working class policies (as you have correctly pointed out). But that's only a part of the whole picture, the real deal is that a whole framework is established which sustains and reproduces the status quo, the fact that the capitalistic class is oppressing and exploiting the working class.

Now, there are quite a number of reasons why this does not change.

(1) Lack of Class-Consciousness from the existing working-class. If you don't know where you are, you definitely cannot know where to go.

Working-class consciousness cannot be genuine political consciousness unless the workers are trained to respond to all cases of tyranny, oppression, violence, and abuse, no matter what class is affected — unless they are trained, moreover, to respond from a Social-Democratic point of view and no other. The consciousness of the working masses cannot be genuine class-consciousness, unless the workers learn, from concrete, and above all from topical, political facts and events to observe every other social class in all the manifestations of its intellectual, ethical, and political life; unless they learn to apply in practice the materialist analysis and the materialist estimate of all aspects of the life and activity of all classes, strata, and groups of the population

[] Lenin, What Is to be Done, Chapter: Trade-Unionist Politics And Social-Democratic Politics

(2) Cultural and Ideological Hegemony of the ruling class (Source: On Cultural Hegemony) The ruling class has the economical & social power and thus can affect (through media, family, school, literature, the internet, etc.) the public opinion as to what is right or wrong. Nowadays, it is for example common perception across West that the capitalistic system is sustainable and beneficial for the majority.

(3) Anti-revolutionary forces that are presented as revolutionary. That's common practice, especially in crisis-periods. "Leftish" forces and parties are created to disorient the working-class, are depicted as allies, but in fact end up as Trojan Horses, to suppress the working class forces.

Source: Lenin on Opportunism

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    On one hand, this is a well-researched answer. On the other hand, it is currently phrased to sound like it contains objective truths backed up by facts, instead of what it really is, which is subjective opinion backed by Marxist theory. Frankly, if the latter disclaimer would be added ("this is how Marxism explains this"), imho it would turn it from poor answer to a good one without any other changes (there's nothing wrong with Marxist POV answer, as long as it clearly labels it as such - Samuel Russel's answers are among some of my favorite on this site). – user4012 Jul 24 '17 at 15:45
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    "Source: Lenin" is pretty close to "this is how Marxism explains this" So close I'm worried I'm missing something. @user4012 do you have a capitalist disclaimer more explicit than naming your sources? – user9389 Jul 24 '17 at 16:54
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    Fundamentally flawed by the assumption that a political party is "a mirror of the class it represents". Even to the limited extent that there are fixed classes in much of the world, political parties seldom (if ever) represent a class. For instance in the US the Democratic party often makes noises about supporting the "working class" (itself a misnomer) but gains a lot of support from educated professionals. Republicans are sometimes painted as the party of the wealthy, but often tailor their policies & rhetoric to appeal to the least common denominator, – jamesqf Jul 25 '17 at 6:23
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    That's an insight given by Gramsci and is more or less approved even by capitalist economists (check reference). Regarding US, from the point of party class relation, both Democrats and Republicans are considered two sides of the same coin, i.e. they are clearly non-working class parties, they are funded by large US corporations, they agree on the current economic system (their program does not aim capitalism overthrow), their differences are mainly on the set of policies they will follow, always in the walls of the existing system – koita_pisw_sou Jul 25 '17 at 6:29
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    @jamesqf too US-centered debate. When there are two parties, who do you think upper-middle class liberals from the left would vote? Republican? (Tory?). Sure, societies are more complex and parties do not fully represent classes. Hence my focus on "the rich" and "the poor", excluding the middle. The focus is such that "the rich" are the elite which benefits from economic rents, low taxation, tax havens, and lax financial regulation. "The poor" instead benefit directly from a bigger welfare state. Right and left party policies do broadly move in such directions – luchonacho Jul 25 '17 at 6:31
0

Well, because they are wealthier they have more leisure, and therefore more time to identify what actually is within their interests and also to assert those interests.

Again, because they are wealthier, they can 'buy' into institutions like politics, the law, education, media and so on, and through their involvement, again assert their interests, and this may mean a campaign of disinformation as a tactic.

One does not need to go to Marx to see this, but merely look at his predecessor, Adam Smith; if we can theorise the wealthy as a collective, then according to Adam Smith they would act in their own interests, both collectively and individually.

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    because they are wealthier they have more leisure, Really? – AnoE Jul 26 '17 at 14:46
  • Can you provide references (e.g. a theory or author) to support your claim? – luchonacho Jul 26 '17 at 15:37
  • @luchonacho - Adam Smith. Basically, some wealthy consider the left to be in their interest more than the right. And vice versa. And act (politically) accordingly. Just because you disagree with their personal considerations, doesn't make them objectively wrong. – user4012 Jul 27 '17 at 13:16
  • @user4012 Can you direct me to the text/pages in which he talks about this? I am aware of his writings, but cannot remember anything related to this. Yet again, I never claimed that every one of the rich benefit only from right-wing policies. See question's history if you do not believe this. – luchonacho Jul 27 '17 at 14:16
  • @luchonacho: No. – Mozibur Ullah Jul 27 '17 at 14:41
-4

The left always complains that "the poor" "don't know what's good for them or they'd vote for us". In reality the poor in large numbers know very well what's good for them and don't vote for the party that raised their taxes to the point they became the poor, meaning the left.

In the same vogue, a lot of "the rich" vote for the left, because the left enacts legislation that strangles competition to their corporations, allowing them to become even richer.

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    This may be accurate, but is a rant, not an answer. – Jared Smith Jul 25 '17 at 14:13
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    Also this might maybe be correct in your corner of the world. You can not just generalize this for all the left parties in all the democracies in the world. – Philipp Jul 26 '17 at 8:29
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    @Philipp What you say is perfectly true, but in being so should apply for nearly all other higher voted answers here. For example, the current highest-voted answer (by user4102) is blatantly from a US, 2-party perspective and cites people, articles and research concerned nearly wholly with the US (nothing wrong with this in itself, except the OP is from Chile and likely asking with an associated frame of reference). This means your comment reads like you are essentially chiding jwenting for answering from his/her perspective when it is exactly what others have/are doing. – Toby Jul 26 '17 at 16:06
  • A more helpful comment might be to ask @jwenting to expand on this answer, possibly with some supporting stats from whichever corner of the world they like (preferably Chile) – Toby Jul 26 '17 at 16:09

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