Incentives

Popping over to the Crooked Timber house, I noticed Keiran Healy pointing out that poor people, even Evangelicals, tend to vote Democratic. The post/author he quoted seemed to lament the fact that the media doesn't point this out more often.

Normally such a comment would be filed under either "duh" or "obvious but unremarkable given confounding factors", but Patri's got me thinking about incentives and efficiency recently. And so the question is, "If the first party gets the votes of people with wage/income X and below, while the second party gets the rest, what does that say about the economic incentive structure for the first party?"

It would seem that, if such a 'class' structure/effect were so, the first party's incentives would be to first put as many people below the threshold as possible while giving an incentive to the people currently below the threshold to keep voting for them, without increasing their effective income so much as to put them over the threshold- such as tying the voters' economic well-being to the party's electoral health. You could call this the Cynical strategy to maintain political power.

Its alternatively possible that the first party would simply try to increase the threshold, and hope that they can increase the threshold faster than their policies increase the income of those below it. You could call that the Good Faith strategy.

Between these two strategies, which would provide more benefits on average to the individual politician? It would seem that the Cynical strategy would be a private good, in that its a lot easier to push people's incomes down than to convince increasingly well off people to keep voting for you (assuming arguendo that such a 'class' based analysis is appropriate for the US) rather than taking a risk that the threshold will rise faster than incomes due to your good policies. The Good Faith strategy would seem to depend on having angels in the party, while Cynicism pays off good or bad. Seems like a public goods problem (how to supply good faith strategists when it pays off less than cynicism)...

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Another way to assure the

Another way to assure the first party of a sufficient voter base is to make certain that a large percentage of the population is dependent on government programs.

Interesting theory. One

Interesting theory. One incentive it gives the first party is to increase transfers from those above the threshold to those below it. This is true even if these transfers are vastly inefficient.

Also, I think the threshold can constantly move because people judge their wealth in relative terms, not absolute. (As witness liberals who think that American minimum wage workers are "poor"). So its fine to increase everyone's standard of living - the important thing is that most people feel like they are "poor". You want the middle class to be lower middle class, not upper middle class.