Sunday 4 December 2016

Putting cash in pockets won't win the election

How voters decide is more complicated than conventional wisdom would have us believe, writes Dan O'Brien

Published 18/10/2015 | 02:30

CRITICISED BUDGET: Fiscal Advisory Council chairman John McHale. Photo: Mark Condren
CRITICISED BUDGET: Fiscal Advisory Council chairman John McHale. Photo: Mark Condren

What will determine who voters plump for when they go the polls in the next few months? The conventional wisdom and the Government's strategy in Budget 2016 are both predicated on the belief that people vote with their wallets - if a government can put more money the way of voters, it will win the day come election time.

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This is, at best, only partly true. People are far more complicated in their motives when choosing a government and are not purely self-interested, calculating machines.

In the US, scholars long ago demonstrated that many people do not vote only or even primarily in their economic self-interest. Other issues, such as the groups with which they identify, and political persuasion are also hugely important, and people often vote against their own financial self-interest. For instance, well-heeled American liberals vote Democrat even though they are likely to pay more taxes, while poor conservatives vote Republic, foregoing the personal gains that would come their way via greater redistribution.

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