Self-interest and public opinion

Being a longtime political junkie and occasionally involved in campaigns I suggest that, putting the ideologues aside, the driving force in voting behaviour is perceived self-interest.

commenter Graham today

I’m not so sure. Though there is a complex relationship between opinion on issues and voting behaviour, a self-interest hypothesis at best seriously under-explains opinion on numerous issues, and in some cases people hold opinions that seem contrary to their self-interest.

Self-interest under-explains opinion because there are many issues in which the voter (or poll respondent) has no personal material stake. People are passionate about the ‘sorry’ issue though, as the ‘practical reconciliation’ critics point out, it in itself will make no material difference to anyone. The republicans don’t argue that doing away with monarchy will make us richer, but that it will somehow make us feel more independent. The gay civil union/marriage issue cannot materially affect more than 2-3% of the population, and probably much less, yet most people seem to have a view on it. The government’s Tampa exercise was very popular, though most Australians live many hours flying time from where the boats come in, and most will probably never meet a refugee. The Iraq war is unpopular, even though few Australians know any soldier serving there and the cost has had no impact on daily life back home.
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