Voting One’s Interests

If there is one lament that occurs during virtually every conversation I’ve had about politics, it’s “Why are ‘those people’ voting against their own interests?'” Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the misconception at the base of that complaint: Republicans and Democrats have very different notions of where voters’ interests reside.

One Democratic strategist who clearly does understand that difference is Indiana’s current Democratic Chair, Mike Schmuhl, who was recently profiled in a Washington Post article.

The article was focused on the difficulty of flipping deep-red states–a task Schmuhl described as more difficult than managing the Presidential campaign of an out gay small-town Indiana mayor. What Schmuhl–and far too few others–seems to recognize is the contested nature of the “interests” that impel voters.

Democrats define interests economically; Republicans see interests as cultural. The result is that partisans end up talking past each other.

Democrats cannot–and should not–abandon their emphasis on issues of economic security, but they need to recognize that for many voters–especially the older, White, rural voters who predominate in Indiana and decide statewide elections–economics are less important than the cultural “wedge” issues the GOP has so skillfully deployed.

Schmuhl is clearly aware of the challenge he faces.

Schmuhl sees two possible avenues for Democrats to start to make gains, although neither presents an easy path for success. The first is the possibility that Republicans will swing so far to the right, and so deeply into Donald Trump’s conspiracy politics, that there will be a voter backlash.

That hasn’t yet happened in Indiana or, for that matter, in other red states, where GOP legislatures have pushed the envelope with new laws on voting rights, education, abortion and other cultural issues. Schmuhl holds out hope that things could yet turn. “Republican domination is a double-edged sword,” he said. “You can go so far and so you kind of tip over.”

He pointed out that in Indiana this year, about two dozen incumbent Republican legislators, including some committee chairs, face such primary challenges, many from candidates with a Trumpian agenda. “I think that every day on their side, it’s really kind of divisions between the far-right kind of MAGA crowd and the establishment Republicans.”

Schmuhl also faces the challenge posed by skillful misinformation, otherwise called lies, promulgated by conservative media outlets, including but not limited to Fox News. He has received money from the Democratic National Committee to fund a war room position “for me to look at innovative ways to fight misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, fake news, all of that,” he said.

Media propaganda is especially pervasive–and persuasive–in rural areas populated predominantly by older, non-college-educated White Hoosiers who feel abandoned and resentful. Those folks are enticing targets for the wedge issues deployed by the GOP’s culture warriors. Whether they will continue to “go along”–whether they will accept and endorse the Party’s wholesale embrace of clearly crazy conspiracy theories and overtly racist policies is a question we cannot yet answer.

So far, those in rural precincts have been able to determine the outcome of statewide elections. They are why Indiana has sent two embarrassments to the U.S. Senate, both of whom shamefully mischaracterized her judicial record to justify voting against the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.

From where I sit–I don’t know either of them personally–Indiana’s Senators would seem to represent the two remaining elements of a once-respectable political party. Todd Young displays a genuine interest in policy, and might–in other times–have been an effective Senator. He’s intelligent but spineless–clearly in thrall to the crazies who are the remaining Republican base, and unwilling to confront those in his party bent on the destruction of democratic norms.

Braun has no observable redeeming characteristics, and with his recent endorsement of “state’s rights”–i.e., effective repeal of the 14th Amendment–has demonstrated his unfitness for any political office.

As Mike Schmuhl clearly understands, the prospects for turning Indiana purple–let alone blue–depend on Democrats’ ability to convince rural voters that their cultural interests are best served by a party committed to economic and social fair play, and that “fair play” includes concern for their well-being.

That’s not a message that will resonate with voters whose resentments and disappointments have hardened into hatred of the “others” who they believe have “replaced” them. I am unwilling to believe that those folks are a majority, even in rural areas dominated by Fox News and hate radio.

But I guess we’ll see….


  1. Dr. Kennedy,
    I hear your concerns clearly from my home in Red Elkhart County.
    As an educator, I watched, then spoke to, the many highly educated colleagues of my partly rural and partly urban district about this issue.
    42% of our population is on free/reduced lunch. Many of our students have a parent who is incarcerated. We had a back pack program for weekend food insecurity.
    Yet most of our staff of conservative Christians, vote reliably R for one reason. (Guess?)
    Even after Mitch Daniels and Tony Bennett began to dismantle public ed in 2012, they have continued to vote against what would fund the very schools that help those less fortunate.
    They vote against the very people Christ served.
    I don’t get how one can listen to a sermon on Sunday, and ignore it’s message at the Vote Center on Tuesday.
    Btw, I’m running for Town Council in my small municipality- as a Democrat.

  2. Is there conversion therapy for racists? That is what Mike Schmuhl will need to address which ails Indiana.

    Even using the word “cultural” to diminish their racism is propaganda. Let’s name it, openly. I’ve driven my motorcycle through much of the Midwest and Indiana and parts of Ohio are still deeply red for racism. Period.

    How do you change that?

    Here’s what Mike Schmuhl should do – schedule a press conference with the Yale-educated Geoffrey Mearns that now runs the Muncie Community School system which is occupied by more than 40% POC because many city parents have moved their kids into the county. Ask him how he plans to win back those racist parents. Many will say they have religious preferences so they home school or send their kids to religious schools on the community dime. 😉

    In fact, many of the parents who vote Democrat do the same thing, but it’s still worth a press conference, isn’t it? 😉

  3. Thank you Beth for running for office as a blue dot in a sea of Red! That takes real passion and guts. Best of success – you never know what might happen in politics!

  4. “[Schmuhl] has received money from the Democratic National Committee to fund a war room position ‘for me to look at innovative ways to fight misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, fake news, all of that,’ he said.”
    That’s a supreme shame because the opposition can generate many more lies than can be fought. The only way to fight lies is 1) to have the whole DNC NAME the lie immediately upon utterance, and 2) to create an ongoing NARRATIVE of truth to replace it. That would require some soul searching since 1) Democrats lack the character to stand up publicly against lies, and 2) they still have no national cultural story to tell, that is, they don’t know history either.
    Sheila is correct in doubting whether Red voters can change their minds to a new narrative, since there is no new narrative and the old, ignorant, neoliberal narrative is daily reinforced on corporate television.

  5. Yet, there is one strand of national narrative that stands out in the general partisan duopoly. It is the movement to form a third party dedicated to revamp the election system, which is currently dominated – by law – by one party in more than 40 states. Join the movement:

  6. Unfortunately, it takes time and patience to explain how a policy will work to the benefit of everyone. Some of those culture warriors are truly just plain racists. Since 2016, they haven’t needed to don their with robes and head coverings to hide their identity. They are out and proud to hate. We can’t undo their hatred overnight, so let’s focus on those who haven’t voted, because they don’t see the point. Tell them how many of them there really are, then tell them what the spread was in the last election. I would be willing to bet the former is greater than the latter. Get them registered. Get them a ride to the poles, if they need one. Help them complete an absentee ballot request and make sure they know how the system works. Give them a number to call if they need help. Then follow up! Follow up! Follow up!

  7. Sheila wrote –
    “I am unwilling to believe that those folks are a majority, even in rural areas dominated by Fox News and hate radio.”

    While ‘those folks’ may not be the majority of R voters in rural Indiana, the biggest challenge to overcome is that the rural R voters who don’t fall for or believe in the far right media propaganda don’t make any effort at all to change the minds of their fellow Rs that do believe all the propaganda.

    We rural Dems cannot stop the extreme right wing craziness that has taken control of of their party. It can only be changed by those within the republican party that desire a return to common sense and decency.

  8. A magical frog offers to grant one wish to a Russian peasant. He is wondering which treasures he should request from the frog. Then, the frog explains that whatever the peasant wishes for and receives himself, his neighbor will receive double. The peasant says, “Ok, then I want you to poke out one of my eyes.”

    Many Republicans vote against their own economic interests because they don’t want their spot in the pecking order disturbed – especially by minorities and other ethnic groups. It’s comforting for them to have groups that they can feel superior to.

  9. Spot on Sheila, no diffrent here in NoDak.. we have a third gen banker,former gov.and corprate bed shaker for one sen, and of course, hes the big name $$$$ in drone warfare too.. the other isnt much to say about ,his great act was to write and pass the goverment ,, cant pass or investigate fracking ,to pass a law….he supposivly supports the truckers in various ways, but has never been more than lip service for some votes. a bonified trumper..

  10. Christopher,
    I completely agree with your 8:01 comment. The national Dem leadership stays eerily silent and makes no effort at all to call out the R’s lies.

  11. Folks, WADR – here comes my “tape #3”

    – the culture war politics folks (on both sides) are not open to conversion. They are highly organized, highly energized and ready and willing to vote. As in 2020, many potentially competitive rural districts will have the DEM primary won by a “progressive” who will be wiped out in November.

    – many relatively non-partisan/non-ideological folks are simply fed up with politics, especially state and national, since little/nothing is being done that changes their everyday lives. So, why vote? Check out the recent trust in government polls.

    – nothing will change soon. Those who trust “pols”/government the least are 18-35’s.

  12. Rural Republicans are not “voting against their own interests” because Republican framing, their own racism and fear of replacement have defined what their “own interests” are. To do: Follow Beth, who even if she loses, will have an opportunity to offer such voters an alternative with a soapbox for discussion of the issues confronting the office she seeks, the solution(s) to which are unrelated to the culture wars promoted by Republican framers, and who knows? If she can successfully counter frame the real issues up for solution she might even win – and start a trend to be copied by Schmuhl in his drive to increase the rural vote for Democrats.

    As I often tell my politically active and Democratic daughter, Republican crossover votes are in a sense better than Democratic votes since they are two-for-one, i.e., one we get and one the Republicans don’t get. Go, Beth!

  13. “As Mike Schmuhl clearly understands, the prospects for turning Indiana purple–let alone blue–depend on Democrats’ ability to convince rural voters that their cultural interests are best served by a party committed to economic and social fair play, and that “fair play” includes concern for their well-being.”

    First; someone, anyone, must find a way to make the bright red right wing to care about fair play on any level. That requires caring for someone other than yourself; do you actually believe they even care about the welfare, economic or social fair play, of their own party members? The operate from the “I got mine, you get yours” economic system and fair play is not a consideration.

    There is news today about the currency chip in your hand, at a cost of course, to save you carrying cash or credit or debit cards. Of course businesses will have to come up with a device to accept this chip in the hand. How long will it take for the criminal element to find a chip that will clean out your chip in a handshake. This is apparently being used in some European countries on a trial level. Not even “The Jetsons” were this futuristic.

  14. When I was just a kid in the 50’, some one erudite coach seemed to get enjoyment introducing boxing, even if the gloves were bigger than our heads. Half through a bout, he would admonish a kid to remain upright to search for his opponents weakness then punch to it no matter where and punch hard and fast. Boxing is not for a beauty contest. Bout after bout … punch at your opponent’s weakness. Later in life I learned politics is like boxing. Beauty contestants do not win political campaigns … not anymore anyway. So bring on the clowns. We need a laugh.

  15. Let’s not forget a hoodge root cause – “87% of Americans live in a county that has voted for the same party in the past three presidential elections”. Ain’t gerrymandering efficient?

  16. So, to summarize, Hoosiers go for the lies, because they, too, are liars. And why is that? Maybe because lying has always been tolerated by their leaders, themselves, and their opponents – in short. All.
    And keep in mind – one’s self-interest is not economic, it’s whatever their opinion is.
    I learned that from my mother’s father. Because of health issues he lived entirely on Social Security at the end of his life, and my grandmother worked in a grocery store candling eggs. And yet, among other things, he would never speak of FDR in respectful terms, he was always “That Man.”
    Yes, opinions make us sooooo happy, but they are definitely costly.

  17. Oh, Sheila.

    Analyze the electoral and demographic data and you will conclude with a fair amount of confidence that the vast majority of white Hoosiers vote for hatred.

  18. Alfred Nyby,
    I thought I was the only one to use a frog in a parable lol!

    I love it and I’m stealing, er-um, borrowing that little ditty.

    I was actually looking over my old articles that I’ve commented on and/or saved over the years, and what I’ve noticed, is that most of the impasses concerning secular government come from religious sources and those sources leadership.

    I’m thinking, the straw that will break the camel’s back, might be on that camel’s back already!

    (See Alfred? I also use camels LOL)


    I absolutely agree with your statement. But, there’s more at play than just politics.

    What can get individuals so radicalized against their self-interest? Fanaticism! Politics doesn’t have a political base, they have a FAN base!

    The GOD er P uses the old timey tent revival tactic! Those individuals attending would constantly be bombarded for hours or days without rest. Eventually, they were radicalized or fanaticized into whatever that particular preacher was selling.

    He could get people or she could get people to give up their money, give up their bodies, or, cause local insurrection. All this is being done on a grand scale because of social media and the 24-hour drone of news!

    One side willingly or not, knowingly or not, feeds the other.

    As Todd says, misrepresented information, alternate realities and alternate truths, IE- lies, IE propaganda, whips up a fervent base which bleeds over into even those with more of a rational view concerning reality.

    It’s the mob mentality!

    We’ve seen it in this country on a regular basis, so much, that we’ve become inoculated to the pain it causes.

    The hatred of native americans, the wholesale lynchings and demonizing folks of African descent. The denial of basic human rights by some over others. The push of religious opinion into secular government, which is unfortunate because there are more than one religion or set of religious beliefs in this country. There is no live and let live, or empathetic conduct for the greater good. The fanaticist leaders use Me’ist propaganda to separate society. And, this has been left unattended for so long, it would actually take a very intensive revolution to stop.

    If a person believes in truth to power, then everyone should speak up! There is no sugar coating a lie, and it should be dealt with as such, actually using the word publicly!

    Younger folks are usually less religious, because they have seen the result of forcing beliefs on races and ethnicities that don’t cherish them as much, or don’t believe in them as much, or are directly and diametrically opposed to their own belief system.

    Too bad, this system will have collapsed, way before anything can be done to prevent it. There will be no revolution, at least a revolution that is acceptable or, better yet, really fix anything! That my friend Lester is called Anarchy……..

    What system will replace this present one? Who or what will rule the roost so to speak? Now that, is an interesting meditation. Nothing good I would imagine!

  19. Alfred, don’t tell the whities that bipartisan votes went for a Technology bill that actually has funding for “bringing skilled labor” from overseas to build the semiconductor chips.

    I can’t wait to how the politicians play this game for their donors. Even with friendly media, residents will be able to see with their own eyes who these skilled laborers are since they’ll need apartments to live in. As long as they can’t vote, right? 😉

  20. Voting one’s interests – that’s easy:

    – Far left: “_________________ for all.
    – Far right: my freedom to do whatever I want
    – Young people: I just want to have fun; politics isn’t fun at all
    – The ignored middle: decent food, housing, healthcare, childcare that I can afford – no pols gonna do that as they are the servants of The Party and Big Business and Big Tech – so vote? Yawn….

  21. Beth Kallimani, thank you for your thoughtful post.

    In response to your statement, “I don’t get how one can listen to a sermon on Sunday, and ignore it’s message at the Vote Center on Tuesday,” historian Kevin Kruse offers an excellent answer in his well-documented book, “One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.”

    Big Oil financed the Billy Graham Crusades that drew America into the tent of Evangelical Christianity. Corporate America understands very well that the key to political control in the USA is through the pulpit and into the pew. From first-hand experience as an ordained pastor I can tell you that money has an outsized influence on church policy at all levels. There never seems to be enough of it to finance ministries and building projects and missions, leaving the Church forever vulnerable to the lure of gifts from entities with ulterior motives.

    In turn, what people are hearing form pulpits across the U.S., especially in Evangelical churches, is influenced as much by the bankroll as by the Bible. Sad to say, but all too true. People vote on Tuesday because of what they hear on Sunday.

  22. A once respectable political party?

    “Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice.”–Barry Goldwater, 1964

    Cow Palace, San Francisco.

    Trumpism is Republicanism. It always has been. It’s been with us since the year the Beatles debuted on Ed Sullivan.

  23. Democrats enjoyed rubbing the noses of working people with respect to their obsolescence. They still do.

    Democrats enjoyed taking financial and political agency from hourly waged individuals. Liberalism failed because its proponents compromised and compromised until Liberalism itself became obsolete. Woodstock Nation is dead. America is much more akin to Altamonte. Mom, Apple Pie and Altamonte. That’s America.

    Liberals became the smug and sneering comfortable-class. The last few years have proven this. Democrats created the chasm.

    Jan 6 didn’t scare me. What is really scary is why does the American Political Class use Jihadis and nazis as proxies for their international agendas? 9/11 was an insurrection. A real one. The largest interchange of public monies to private hands at the time. The men guiding those aircraft on 9/11 were Brzezinski’s boys.

  24. I have family/friend connections in Florida, Georgia, rural New York, southern Minnesota, S. Dakota, Oklahoma, and Texas. I have known for a long time that racism and resentment against urban liberalism smoldered in those places, especially among rural and small-town whites. That has been combined with belief that their version of Christianity is what allowed creation of this country, and that rightfully, the US should have a state religion… theirs. That smoldering burst into flame with oxygen blown on it by Trump and the power-hungry sycophants he has fostered. The attitudes among people I’ve known, and liked, are angry, virulent, and deep-seated. The Democratic Party of today does not have a narrative, a story, that resonates with the people I’m referring to. The party is led by people as old as I am– and I am ancient– or older. The party seems stuck in an old mode, lacking in fire and brimstone and story-telling that can change the radically revanchist attitudes of “the Reds.” The multiculturalism and diversity of the Democrats actually works against them among the Trumpist voters. Changing US politics will require severe, stunning overreach by the Right that causes backlash against them, and a fiery, aggressive new Democratic Party that simply will not give up. It will take a long time… if it’s even possible at this late date. But we have to try.

  25. We need to be involved with our schools as much as possible. 42% of Indiana children can receive from the free lunch program but getting that to the families that should receive it is difficult nationwide according to The Washington Post.
    This is concerning as families cant be easily tracked. Many families in Marion County are more transient.
    Farmers are facing higher fuel and fertilizer costs and will be squeezed into paying for these necessary costs to keep the farm alive.

  26. I prefer to split this issue into two parts –
    The Democrats –
    It has been pointed out numerous times how hopeless the Democrats are at messaging. That is a base problem, but there is a second problem. They are confused about how to deal with Republicans, who in their eyes, have not helped the majority of the people over the years, but rather had been the party of big business and the rich, and now the racists and crazies (and those who follow in the inundation of lies on Fox and elsewhere).

    Do Democrats try to be great “Republican-lite”, a la Clinton? Do they embrace the “suburban mom” a la Biden? Do they appeal to the “minority base” a la Sanders?

    Did you notice that I didn’t mention rural voters? I had a lengthy discussion with a rural Democrat down in French Lick last August. He believed that there were a lot of rural voters that could be convinced, but the Democrats DON’T SHOW UP. There are programs supported by Democrats that rural Americans would understand, and might distract them from the culture wars — because they would feel “listened to”, but the Democrats don’t show up.

    If Democrats want to expand their reach, they have to quit “targeting” their “swing” group and do a 50-state, urban and rural, religious and otherwise strategy.

    As for combating lies, call them LIES. Also, I suspect that a strong counter narrative would be more effective. Don’t tell a rural resident that Republicans want to do away with “school lunches”. That’s “welfare for those black people”. Tell them that the Republicans want to do away with the school lunch program AT THEIR SCHOOL, and use the school’s name.

    The Democrats should push hard on what the GOP (using the Rick Scott model) plan for their future. Are they worried about suburban women? Be clear and loud that they are coming after abortion and then after birth control. Want to move a few seniors? Rick Scott wants to eliminate Social Security and use his “government hands to take away their Medicare”.

    If they don’t believe it, remind them that no one believed that Russia would target their bombs on women and children in Ukraine. Believe people when they tell you their plans.

    Now for the Republicans –

    Sorry, but I am more of a Thermadorian. The Republican Party has crossed over and will not be “saved” by moderates. We will have “moderates” like Collins, who voted for a Justice whose ideas of Judicial demeanor was to act like a petulant child who is entitled to an appointment. She then cooperated in the stacking of the court by letting McConnell jam through a last minute appointment, violating the McConnell Rule, and recent tradition as well. Voting for Jackson proves nothing to me. “Look at me, I stacked the court with anti-Roe people, but I voted for a Black woman.” Sorry, that doesn’t cut it as principled moderate.

    We will also get those that talk moderate, but govern like a Trumpster. Ask Virginia.

    There have been suggestions to “help restore civility” by voting against Trumpsters in the Republican primaries, but that further legitimizes the Trumpsters (BTW, Barry Goldwater did NOT want support from the John Birch Society – even he believed that there was a fringe that he didn’t want in his party). It also will elect more Republicans to split Congress 50-50, and do believe me that those “moderates” will buckle under to the ideal of Party Loyalty.

    If anything, people should take a gamble and vote for the craziest Republicans on the ballot. Once they win the primaries, and the gamble that some things are too far for the majority of Americans of all stripes proves true, and there is a real majority the preserve a liberal democracy in this country, including passing some new laws to protect it, and possibly unstacking the courts, then the sane Republicans can reclaim their party, or replace it.

    For those who love third parties, from my studies (college classes and life), I think you are missing the lessons of history. Historically, third parties in parliamentarian systems have either caused the party to which they are ideologically closest to lose until they replaced that party completely, or they have had outsized influence in ideologically split parliaments, where no single party has a majority.

    In our system, it doesn’t work that well. Even when the Republicans replaced the Whigs, the Whigs had already been losing to the Democrats and were losing power. The other contributions of third parties? Ask Al Gore. His loss (5-4) was caused by (1) a targeted registration roll purge (“Black sounding names” purged; “Hispanic sounding names” – maybe Cuban Republicans – stay), (2) funky butterfly ballots that may have confused voters, (3) Third Party Ralph Nader, and (4) an activist Republican court, which wouldn’t have been involved if not for the first three (any one being enough the change the outcome).

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