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Why only red-state voters are expected to answer this question

  • Red-state voters are expected to vote their 'economic self interests' but not liberals like me.
  • Democrats and Republicans abandon the middle class after the election.

Supporters take selfies and hold placards as President Donald Trump arrives to address a 'Make America Great Again' rally at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Kentucky, March 20, 2017.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images
Supporters take selfies and hold placards as President Donald Trump arrives to address a 'Make America Great Again' rally at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Kentucky, March 20, 2017.

Even though I would never vote for Donald Trump, I understand that the question "Why don't more red-state Republicans vote based on their own economic self-interest?" is a nicer way of asking "How could they be dumb enough to get tricked into voting for Donald Trump?"

The same self-interest question never gets asked about people like me.

I am a small business owner and on most issues, pretty liberal. You could argue that by voting for Democrats, I, like a working-class red-state voter, am also not voting based on my own economic self-interest. Having just submitted my second year of tax returns as a small business owner, I am very aware that the economic policies that are usually the focus of Republican talking points are far more beneficial to me than the economic policies that are usually the focus of Democratic talking points.

So why aren't their podcasts and editorials dedicated to figuring out why someone like me votes against my own self-interest?

It may be because the political scientists and pundits asking the self-interest question believe it's just more acceptable to base your vote on climate change on abortion. However, it's hypocritical to give liberals a pass on voting against their own economic self-interest because of issues unrelated to their wallet, while openly wondering why conservatives can't see the light and vote on economics and not social values.

The fact that the self-interest conversation is so completely focused on red-state conservatives just reinforces the idea that there is an elite ruling class looking down at people whose votes are shaped by the values they learned in the small towns (like the one I live in) of Middle America.

And the reality is most voters may have concluded that voting based on your own economic self-interest is itself a myth, unless you happen to exist in the narrow bands of the very richest Americans or the very poorest Americans.

Slightly more than 3 percent of hourly employees earn the minimum wage. Labor unions represent 6 percent of private sector employees. About 1.5 percent of the population earns $200,000 or more per year—and that group represents the portion of the population that stands to gain the largest windfall (both in rate reductions and absolute dollars) from Donald Trump's proposed tax cuts.

"So rather than engage in a one-sided discussion about why red-state voters don't vote in their own economic self-interest, we should face the reality: Neither party has done a good job representing the economic interests of most Americans."

During campaigns the middle-class gets a lot of attention, but actual policy tends to focus on those who work behind the behind the counter at McDonald's or those who own the McDonald's.

Everyone else is usually forgotten.

And the neglect shows.

Wages have stagnated for 40 years, while the costs of healthcare, housing, and education have skyrocketed. During those 40 years, America has had Democratic and Republican presidents, and Democratic and Republican congresses. Yet no matter which party controls the government, life just keeps getting harder (and more expensive) for middle- and working-class Americans.

So when pundits and economists race in after an election, asking why more working-class and middle-class Americans don't vote in their economic self-interest, which party should they have voted for?

Which party has shown that they stick to their promises of making life better for most Americans?

Yes, Obamacare gave millions of poor Americans healthcare that they otherwise wouldn't have had, and George Bush's tax cuts put a little more money in everyone's pocket (though they put a lot more in the pockets of the wealthy).

However, the purchasing power of the hourly wage peaked in 1973, and labor force participation among males has been declining since the 1960s.

So rather than engage in a one-sided discussion about why red-state voters don't vote in their own economic self-interest, we should face the reality:

Neither party has done a good job representing the economic interests of most Americans.

If the final 1,360 days of the Trump presidency are anything like the first 100, that likely won't change.

Despite the promises to "drain the swamp," the administration is looking like more of the same. In fact, the idea that nothing changes no matter who is in charge is further reinforced by the fact that the primary qualification to serve on the Trump economic team isn't even party affiliation.

It's experience at Goldman Sachs.

And if there is anything left that's still bipartisan, it's Goldman Sachs alumni running economic policy.

If nothing else, the fact that Wall Street runs the economy regardless of who is president shows that the only way real change will occur for middle and working class Americans is if we move beyond the myth that either party currently represents the economic interests of most Americans.

Commentary by Dustin McKissen, the founder and CEO of McKissen + Company, a strategy, marketing, and public relations firm based in St. Charles, Missouri. The firm does consulting work analyzing how politics effects the business climate for clients in the U.S., Europe, and Latin America. McKissen was named one of LinkedIn's "Top Voices" in 2015 and 2016. He holds a Bachelors degree in Public Policy, and a Masters degree in Public Administration and is currently pursuing a PhD in Organizational and Industrial Psychology. Follow him on Twitter @DMcKissen.

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