David R. Henderson  

Will False Belief in the SIVH Destroy Obama's Candidacy?

Will False Belief in the SIVH ... Do Indians Rightfully Own Amer...

Bryan makes a good argument in his post earlier today titled "Will False Belief in the SIVH Destroy Romney's Candidacy?" The evidence against the Self-Interested Voter Hypothesis is strong. But Patrick R. Sullivan's comment should not be missed. He wrote, "Romney? What about Barack Obama and The Life of Julia?" If we take both Romney (in his speech) and Obama (in his advertising) at their word, it seems that the two candidates agree on two important points:
1. Many people are dependent on government.
2. People vote their narrow self-interest.

It is #2 above that Bryan, quite rightly, disagrees with.

But if you start with those two assumptions, you reach the following conclusion:
3. People who are dependent on government will vote for the candidate who credibly (to them, at least) promises to keep the programs that have created that dependence.

Many people have expressed shock at Romney's statement of his views. What I find most interesting is that Obama seems to share them.

COMMENTS (13 to date)
F. Lynx Pardinus writes:

I think this would be stronger if the website prompted you to enter your name and age and showed how the government affected you. It's a weaker case when the website says "Take a look at how President Obama's policies help one woman over her [not your] lifetime--and how Mitt Romney would change her [not your] story."

F. Lynx Pardinus writes:

Or to put it another way, saying "here's how my policies will affect a typical person" is different from saying "you should vote your narrow self-interest." I mean what's the alternative, to only have dry discussions of how theoretical policies affect theoretical people? At some point, real policies affect real people in real ways, and it's not necessarily SIVH to point that out.

Dan Hill writes:

Yes, but what Romney fails to understand is that the trick to electoral success is to make the moochers understand you are going to look after them without making them feel like moochers.

Charlie writes:

I agree with FLynx. The Life if Julia is not about getting Julia's vote. It's about getting people that care about Julia to vote.

In a mass democracy, your vote is as likely to have as much difference to the outcome of an election as your cheers make to the outcome of a football game. People vote for reasons similar to the reasons that they cheer at football games or buy lottery tickets. People vote to have a reason to pat themselves on the back. Considered as an investment based on the odds of winning, buying a lottery ticket is irrational, but it's no more irrational than buying a movie ticket. For a few hours (or weeks) you get to enjoy the fantasy of being the hero or winning lots of money.

I vote.

Political parties are marketing organizationd for politicians. Ideology promotes brand loyalty. People who compose voter-motivational fantasies for Republican candidates might consider trying to sell to some current Democratic voters the idea that the current entitlement system cannot last and that a real concern for some category of deserving recipients means reducing benefits for less deserving recipients.

RPLong writes:

Well said, Prof. Henderson. Just yesterday I was discussing this with a friend, who was outraged by Romney's comments, but who regularly repeats Obama's arguments. I tried to make the point that both are based on the same underlying sentiment, that if you accept one, you have to accept the other.

He didn't get it. So far, I think Caplan's "Social Desireability Bias" theory offers the most credible explanation.

Snorri Godhi writes:

The views expressed by Romney (and somewhat implicitly by Obama) were anticipated by Plato and Aristotle a long time ago, and by many others between Plato and Romney.
Romney did not appear to claim a special insight, but the American media and the BBC, not surprisingly, are completely unaware that this concept has an intellectual pedigree.

I have commented to Bryan's post on why I am closer to Plato and Aristotle (with heavy qualifications) than to Caplan and Henderson.

Incidentally, in one respect Romney is quite wrong: it is possible to be in the top bracket and still have an interest in the expansion of the State. See the distinction between market entrepreneurs and political entrepreneurs, made by Burton Folsom.

Brian writes:

It's not really true that the Self-Interested Voter Hypothesis (SIVH) is wrong; you just have to correctly identify the focus of the self-interest. Specifically, voters will always vote their self-identity. They want policies that make them feel good about themselves, i.e. policies that support their most cherished values, and vote to protect those policies. It's the ultimate in self interest, though not always narrowly so.

John Csekitz writes:

I partially disagree with Dave; that the politicians at the top of their respective parties (Obama and Romney) show similar tendencies in their beliefs regarding #1 and #2 demonstrate that they and their apparatus believe it has value.
I agree that SIVH is not all powerful, but it is stimulus. As such what I am guessing is that the data shows SIVH helps/will move the needle the few percentage points necessary to secure Obama's continued employment as President, and from Romney's perspective, makes his quest to win the title that much harder.

Snorri Godhi writes:

PS: strictly speaking it is not correct to say at #3 is a logical consequence of #1 and #2: rather, it is a consequence of #2 alone -- or perhaps a clarification of #2, since the concept of "narrow self-interest" is a bit fuzzy.
Sorry to be pedantic.

Jim Moser writes:

Kirkpatrick's post fails to consider the effects of "home-field advantage" and the consequence winning has on popularity.

Charley Hooper writes:

If the government takes from person A and gives to person B, it can always make a case for how it helped person B. It would be fun to modify The Life of Julia website to show both Julia's side and the cases of everyone who was hurt (all the person A's).

And then show how taking from person A and giving to person B, in general, hurts society through the negative-sum game of theft.

David Henderson Author Profile Page writes:

Great idea, Charley. And then call it “The Life Cycle of Julia."

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