More People Should Read The Los Angeles Times

Politics, of course, is often messy and confounding. People identify with particular politicians for reasons that don’t make sense to outsiders who don’t share their politics. Sometimes one priority overshadows another. Yet several themes emerged from my research.

One was an ability of GOP voters, especially those who mistrusted the government, to hold seemingly conflicting thoughts about government services. “I’d be dead without my Medicaid,” one man told our focus groups,” and next said, “The ACA is socialism in its most evil form.”

Ineffective government also played to long-held biases and anxieties about race. One white Kansas parent who identified as a GOP supporter insisted that school budget cuts were justified because “blacks just use school funds to rent party buses.” More frequent were vague concerns about ways that minorities or immigrants usurped undeserved resources, such as when one respondent claimed that, “the Mexicans, their food stamps, everything they want, we’re paying for it.”

Such concerns sometimes led to people standing on “principle” even when it harmed them. I’ll never forget how a man pulling an oxygen tank because of severe lung disease told me he would rather die (and soon did die) than receive benefits from the ACA because it used “my tax dollars” on “Mexicans and welfare queens.” Data that my research team amassed showed how these kinds of mortal trade-offs shortened lifespans, and sometimes disproportionately harmed white communities that form the core of GOP support.

To be sure, I encountered many GOP voters who simply believed in smaller and more effective governance, and whose political views were not driven by a sense that others were gaming the system. But such moderate voices were smaller in number among my research subjects, and they certainly haven’t held sway in recent elections.

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