Opinion: How materialism impacts elections

Elaina Sauber

Elaina Sauber

Elaina Sauber is a junior English major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]

As Election Day rapidly approaches, I’m sure most registered voters have taken a stance on which candidate deserves their vote. I’m not here to try to sway you in one direction or another; however, I am curious to know what it is that motivates us to vote for whom we do.

Let’s narrow it down to two potential motivations: individual and ideological. Do you vote according to your own self-interests, or based upon your personal values? For example, many self-identified Catholics shifted from voting Republican to Democratic in the mid-20th century. This is a result of a term coined by Ronald Inglehart called post-materialism. According to Inglehart, post-materialism is “a new predominant element in political culture in wealthy democracies.”

Inglehart argued that after the post-World War II economic expansion, by the 1960s and 1970s most citizens in wealthy societies were less concerned with economic issues and more concerned with quality-of-life issues. With the economic growth that came after the war, most citizens eventually attained “a level of material comfort that led to a change in attitudes and values.”

Instead of being concerned with issues like job production and the price of goods and services, people became more concerned with ideas like human and civil rights. This ultimately led to a change in the issues that politicians came to care about and the outcomes of elections.

So why did this cause such a strong change in party support from Catholics? According to the concept of post-materialism, as Catholics who were part of the expanding middle class lived with greater financial security, they eventually cared more about issues such as their religious opposition to abortion, and they shifted their party allegiance accordingly.

But do today’s Catholics feel the same way? According to the Catholic Democrats website, in the past several years there has been a major shift of Catholics leaning more toward a progressive political culture: “53 percent of weekly Mass-attending Catholics identify as, or lean toward, being Democrats, while 43 percent of weekly attenders identify as or lean toward being Republicans … Thus, among Catholics attending Mass once a week or more often, Democrats have a 10 percentage point edge.”

These statistics were published in 2008, at the beginning of the economic recession.

This brings up an important question: Does a population’s reversion of focus toward materialism suggest that materialism is its primary concern? If so, then this means that one’s vote is solely based upon his or her own self-interests. It is only when they are economically satisfied that they will take into account their values and principles when preparing to vote for a presidential candidate.

Is this necessarily a bad thing? It’s hard to say. One might claim that voting exclusively in favor of one’s self-interests lacks integrity, but it is human nature for us to serve our own interests, and those of our family, before anyone else. My rule of thumb is this: If you can vote for a candidate without any weight on your conscience, you’ve made the right decision.