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Why Oh Why?

The Voters Who Keep Voting for Candidates Who Back Things They Oppose

Even in red states, majorities of voters back abortion rights and other things the GOP is against. So why do they keep voting Republican?

Trump and J.D. Vance at a rally
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump listens as J.D. Vance speaks during a rally.

There’s something strange happening in the United States politically right now, something that I mentally refer to as “the great disconnect.” Ohio is the poster child for it. In 2020, the Buckeye State overwhelmingly voted for Donald J. Trump, handing him an eight-point victory. In 2022, Ohioans handed a U.S. Senate seat to newly minted Trumpist J.D. Vance by six percentage points. As of today, has Trump leading Biden there by 10.5 percent.

Yet only a year after elevating Vance, voters enshrined abortion rights in the state constitution by 14 points, and legalized marijuana by the same margin.

We see this pattern repeated elsewhere. In Kansas, access to abortion was upheld at the ballot box by 18 points in 2022. In Kentucky, a 2022 state constitutional amendment that would effectively ban abortion was shot down by a solid five-point margin. In 2024, it seems likely that 11 more states will have initiatives defending abortion rights on the ballot and that most if not all will pass. This includes Florida, where despite a requirement for constitutional amendments to get 60 percent approval, it still appears the ballot initiative, which protects abortion rights, will pass.

A basic look at the math in Ohio suggests that roughly 40 percent of the people who voted for Vance in 2022 turned around and voted to enshrine abortion rights the next year. Perhaps these people think of themselves as “moderate Republicans,” who are willing to vote for the people (like Vance) who passed the unpopular bills in the first place. Which raises the question: Why are people voting for Republicans with hideously unpopular, radical policy positions in the first place, if these voters know what their representatives intend to do?

There are a lot of possible explanations, and most of them revolve around a knee-jerk dislike among these voters of the Democratic Party overriding the times when they disagree with Republicans. Or the unfounded belief that Republicans will handle the economy and the border better (FWIW: The U.S. economy has rebounded better than that of any other G7 country since the pandemic, and Trump shot down the bipartisan border bill). Sometimes it’s a belief that the GOP would never “go that far” and a failure to recognize how radicalized it has become. Or in some cases, they simply like the fact that Trump promises to hurt the people they think should be hurt.

This disconnect isn’t limited to abortion. Donald Trump just endorsed Mark Burns for North Carolina’s 3rd congressional district (which is gerrymandered deep red). Burns has called for the execution of LGBT people, and refused to recant when confronted with these statements. In North Dakota, the state GOP’s party platform states that transgender people should all be involuntarily required to undergo conversion therapy (which sounds suspiciously like reeducation camps). We’ve hit the part of the Overton window where Republicans are openly discussing their proposed final solutions to the transgender question, and no one seems to notice.

Now I suspect that if you asked voters on a ballot: “Should transgender people be shot or put in reeducation camps?” roughly 85 percent would say no. (The remaining 15 percent are why I write about fascism, because they’re the base for people like Mark Burns.) Nevertheless, Republicans in North Dakota and North Carolina are going to keep voting Republican anyway.

There is a fundamental disconnect between the policies voters want and who they vote for. People are getting what they voted for but collectively can’t connect the dots to understand this. They’re like my boomer parents: “Oh, yeah, all this anti-trans stuff is a little over the top, but Democrats are just so corrupt and far left ... I couldn’t bring myself to vote for one.” Or “Biden’s too old and has dementia.” Or, like my stepfather, they couldn’t care less so long as Trump cuts taxes, guts the IRS auditing department, and ceases to regulate anything related to commerce or industry.

We’ve reached a point where people vote for parties without having a strong idea, or in some cases maybe the slightest idea, of what policies those parties would implement. To me, this is an indication that many voters still fundamentally do not understand the stakes of the 2024 election. Nor do they understand that the GOP intends to prevent them from fixing things in the future with ballot initiatives. Republicans in Missouri, Mississippi, Arizona, Florida, and Ohio have all tried to make it even harder for voters to overturn the unpopular laws that were passed using gerrymandered legislatures.

There’s also substantial evidence that voters have no idea of the threat they face. Only 31 percent are aware of Trump’s most egregious comments describing minorities and immigrants as “vermin” who are “poisoning” the nation. Additional polling indicates that if they knew about these quotes, a small but substantial number would be less likely to vote for him.

Democratic voters assume that the polls are wrong, or that the guardrails will hold. Independents and some Republicans assume that the GOP wouldn’t go that far, no matter what the policy is, because they believe it is so unpopular that the GOP just wouldn’t dare. Both groups are mistaken; in reality, we’re dealing with a Christian nationalist movement that doesn’t care what people think, because they intend to seize power permanently. And the American public is likely to hand it to them because Biden is old and didn’t give them a pony for Christmas.

People got, and are going to get, exactly what they voted for. Polling aggregates still have Biden trailing Trump by 0.5 points nationally, and with the Electoral College favoring Republicans, that means Biden currently has only around a 10 percent chance of winning. He’s behind in polls in every swing state. Anyone paying the slightest bit of attention understands that a Trump victory likely means a nationwide ban on abortion, in vitro fertilization, and birth control via Food and Drug Administration policy (run by newly installed Trump appointees at every level with Schedule F) and enforcement of the Comstock Act. Unfortunately, that doesn’t describe very many people.

If you put it to a national vote, around 86 percent of Americans oppose bans on IVF; yet we’re on course to elect a fascist dictator who would put appointees and judges in place to ban it. This demonstrates my central thesis: Voters played stupid games and won stupid prizes across most of the U.S. when they put the GOP in charge. Abortion got banned, and still they seem to have zero idea how they won that prize.

Now we’re descending even deeper into “fuck around and find out” territory. Many people will still have no idea why abortion, IVF, and birth control are illegal in all 50 states; civil rights laws are enforced primarily to protect white Christian men; prayer is mandatory; and trans people are showing up at the Canadian border requesting asylum.

I hope those small-business deductions were worth it.