Religion & Liberty Online

The Curious Politics of Financial Insecurity

counting-penniesIn the Federalist Papers James Madison noted that “the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society.”

Madison’s observations continues to be proven correct. Even factors such as whether a person has a checking or savings account is strongly correlated with nearly every measure of political engagement, including which dominant political “faction”—Democrat or Republican—they’ll identify with.

But as a new Pew Research study finds, those who are financially insecure are tending to opt out of the political system altogether. In 2014, only about half (54 percent) of the least financially secure were registered to vote while almost all of the most financially secure Americans (94 percent) were registered. Financially insecure Americans are also far less likely than those at the top of the security scale to be politically engaged in other ways:

For example, just 14% say they have contacted an elected official in the last two years; by comparison 42% of the most secure have done this. And when it comes to overall awareness of the political landscape, about six-in-ten (61%) of the most financially secure Americans could correctly identify the parties in control of both the House and Senate, compared with just 26% of the least financially secure. (To put this in context, because these are two two-option multiple-choice questions, this latter figure is no greater a percentage than would have identified this by chance.)

The study also finds that while financial insecurity is associated with a lack of support for the Republican Party, it does not translate into correspondingly greater levels of allegiance for the Democrats. The reason:

In general, the financially secure are more likely to have ideologically consistent views, that is, political values that are consistently liberal or consistently conservative across multiple dimensions. The financially insecure are much less likely to have consistent opinions and values: 51% hold a diverse mix of liberal and conservative values, compared with just 24% among the most secure group. People who hold an inconsistent mix of liberal and conservative values are far less likely to be interested in politics, to express a preference between the Democrats and Republicans, to hold strong opinions about the parties or to vote.

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Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).