Yes, politicians buy votes

The politicians who bring home the most political bacon tend to be the hardest to unseat. A 2010 study by Professor Thomas Stratmann of George Mason University found that securing earmarks leads to higher vote shares for politicians, and that the effect is increased when earmarks are directed to a politician’s home state. Voters, it seems, like it when the pork flows their way.

Curiously, much of the outrage over Romney’s remarks has come from the right, where politicians at least rhetorically portray themselves as skeptical of government spending. Newt Gingrich described Romney’s comment as “nuts” and “insulting.” Bobby Jindal agreed that it is “insulting voters” to say that “votes were bought.” This might be little more than political grand-standing, but even so it represents what Republican politicians believe they should say to curry favor with the outraged.

But since when were voters beyond reproach? The News IQ Survey conducted by Pew Research in August found that only 60% of voters could identify Bain Capital as the company Romney once ran, and only 40% knew that Republicans controlled the House of Representatives but not the Senate. These results are not at all surprising, as there is plenty of research showing that most citizens know little about politics and public policy — which is understandable given the relatively small impact a single voter will have on an election, and the fact that people have more pressing matters in their day-to-day lives with which to concern themselves. But it is nevertheless a long-standing source of voter criticism.

Criticizing voters was certainly fashionable last year and earlier this year, during the Republican presidential primaries. Liberal pundits accused Republican primary voters of everything from racism to stupidity. Take, for example, Lawrence O’Donnell suggesting that Romney deliberately got booed by the NAACP in order to please his racist base, or Sam Donaldson’s accusation that “many on the political right … oppose [President Obama] not for his polices [sic] and political view but for who he is, an African American!” But insulting those kinds of voters is okay, as they clearly have it coming. Just don’t you dare imply that politicians are buying votes, or that voters love them for it.

Brian Garst is the Director of Government Affairs at the Center for Freedom and Prosperity. CF&P works to promote and defend tax competition, financial privacy and fiscal sovereignty.