t’s a well-known fact that wealthy people tend to lean right-wing on politics.
What has not been so well understood is why. There seems to be two main hypotheses: Do the wealthy and powerful tend to favor right-wing politics out of their own self-interest, e.g. voting for lower taxes to preserve their wealth? Or do right-wing values — like emphasizing the importance of self-reliance — make people more likely to become rich?
New research on the topic by Andrew J. Oswald of the University of Warwick and Nattavudh Powdthavee of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research looks into the political views of lottery winners, using data from Britain. Lottery winners provide a useful group for study, because they are a group who have gained wealth not from their own efforts, but as a result of random luck.
Powdthavee and Oswald find that the larger the lottery win, the greater a person’s subsequent tendency (after controlling for other influences) to switch their political views from left to right:
They also found evidence that lottery winners are more sympathetic to the belief that ordinary people "already get a fair share of society’s wealth."
So, additional wealth alone is enough to shift some people toward right wing views. That’s an important finding.
But I must caution that this does not imply that people’s political views are solely expressions of self-interest, and that political reasoning is just a rationalizing narrative constructed to justify their self-interest. While naked self-interest may influence people to switch, there are still plenty of wealthy left-wingers and poor right-wingers in the world, for example. While an ideology that aligns with one’s self interest may be a little easier to swallow, self-interest is clearly not everything.
And this study doesn’t mean that value systems can’t sometimes be an important factor in the success of those who earn their wealth. There are certainly some right-wingers whose belief in self-reliance and rugged individualism motivated them to build businesses and get rich (although it's also true lots of wealthy right-wing people inherit their wealth). But there are also lots of wealthy people who don't have right-wing beliefs whose motivation to get rich will have come from a source other than the ideology of Ayn Rand or Ronald Reagan.
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