The Myth of the Rational Voter, Bryan Caplan’s take on Romney’s 47% comments

I ran across a mention of a PUP book (The Myth of the Rational Voter) on Hit & Run at Reason magazine. This led me to author Bryan Caplan’s blog where he discusses Mitt Romney’s 47% “gaffe”:

Many people believe that voters’ positions are determined by their objective self-interest. I call this the SIVH – the Self-Interested Voter Hypothesis. A massive body of evidence shows that the SIVH is just plain wrong. Self-interest has no more than sporadic marginal effects on political views.

Successful politicians usually seem well-aware of the weakness of the SIVH. To win support, they appeal to the public interest and ideology, not self-interest. What’s really strange about Romney’s recently revealed gaffe, then, is that he seems to take an extreme version of the SIVH for granted. “There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.” Why? “47% of Americans pay no income tax.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong. The 47% won’t vote for Obama “no matter what.” Almost half of voters who earn less than the median income vote Republican in the typical election. A person doesn’t support the nanny state because he wants government to take care of him; a person supports the nanny state because he wants government to take care of us.

Whether you agree with him or not, Bryan’s book has become the go-to book for understanding voter motivation, or as the copy describes it, “misconceptions, irrational beliefs, and personal biases held by ordinary voters.” You can sample the introductory chapter of The Myth of the Rational Voter here: The Paradox of Democracy.



The Myth of the Rational Voter
Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies (New Edition)
Bryan Caplan