Why are some Homeless Folks Politically Conservative?

Years ago, when I lived downtown, I knew perhaps fifteen or twenty middle aged homeless men.  One of the most striking things about them as a group was that almost every last one of them was a Rush Limbaugh Conservative.  Offhand, I can’t recall any who were not.  Yet, that kind of conservatism seems no friend of the homeless.  So, I’ve wondered now and then why those men — or why anyone for that matter — would espouse an ideology so remote from their apparent self-interest?  Any ideas about that would be welcomed.

30 thoughts on “Why are some Homeless Folks Politically Conservative?

  1. It’s quite simple. Americans accept responsibility for their personal failures and don’t expect the government or anyone else to bail them out of their problems. Americans have enough self-respect to know that feeding themselves at the public trough isn’t in their self-interest because it’s morally wrong.

    This is something that Americans instinctively know but that Liberals are incapable of understanding.

      • Got it one. Being American is, as even Obama recognized, “not a matter of blood or birth, it’s a matter of faith.” There’s a basic ideology and belief structure that is prerequisite for being American as opposed to just living within Her borders and feeding of Her privileges.

    • jonalon, I would say that feeding at the public trough is often not good for individuals because it is a piece of a whatever larger circumstances have taken them to that trough to begin with. However, it is sometimes the only alternative to starvation and freezing to death in the streets. We didn’t always have these programs, and our poor lived as miserably as any you could find in England during the Industrial Revolution. But morally wrong? It would be morally wrong for me to refuse to contribute to the public trough. It would also be against my self-interest. I don’t walk around in some magic armor that will stop the bus that might strike me and render me a quadriplegic tomorrow.

  2. Maybe they don’t want to identify with the poor because it feels disempowering? Perhaps they soothe themselves by identifying with the rich and powerful?

  3. Yes, and part of having mental problems is depression and internalizing self-blame, feeling like a personal failure and believing in a just world in which those who don’t make it are just lazy losers, getting what they deserve, everything the smug trust-funded rich have been telling the poor all along.

  4. I recommend reading The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer. He discusses reasons people believe any number of things, among them political ideologies. He dedicates a chapter to the personality differences in the two groups which account in part for the differences in world view.

  5. Damn good question. Something about a sense of individualism and thinking success and failure are your own doing. I imagine there is emotional baggage to being homeless and that may lead to that style of thinking.

  6. They certainly have bought into the BS ideology that, in the name of greed, created the situation in which they find themselves.
    This made me laugh: “Americans accept responsibility for their personal failures and don’t expect the government or anyone else to bail them out of their problems. Americans have enough self-respect to know that feeding themselves at the public trough isn’t in their self-interest because it’s morally wrong”. It obviously doesn’t count the 1% as Americans as they feed voraciously at the public trough all the time.

  7. There are several factors at play here. One big factor could be that, despite their current situation, they still hold out the “American Dream”. Maybe they believe that they’re choosing this life and that they could choose another. They could perhaps, with hard work and dedication, become self-made rich people. They’re holding onto a dream, an ideal.

    I’ve come to the realization that most people’s political ideals are more emotionally charged than they are rational.

  8. Amen to almost everything said above (excluding the obvious).

    And let’s be real. Limbaugh fans are not critical thinkers. Those two conditions are mutually exclusive. Like all of his ilk, Limbaugh selects “facts,” spins them, then tells his sheeple what to think about those “facts.” Some people find that state of mindlessness a comfortable way to live, so it’s no wonder that some of them are homeless.

    That behavior — that mindless “morality” — is not so different from the conservatives in my neck of the woods. They are easily manipulated and distracted by so-called “moral issues” such that they, to a sheeple, consistently vote against their own self-interest. It’s mind-boggling.

    And speaking of public troughs, I wonder how many of your homeless acquaintances helped fund a few golden and platinum parachutes with their tax dollars (speaking of “morally wrong”) before they lost their homes?

  9. jonolon makes me laugh. Unbeknown to the rest of the country, apparently Americans all have a homogeneous view. That must be why we have a one party system, right? Right?

    I think D’Ma may be right, and besides the “who is American” rhetoric, jonolon may be partially right too. Paul is also right to point out that several are not of full capacity.

    I would suggest as well that it may come down to an acceptance or explanation of their situation. They are obviously not living in a Liberal idealized paradise. Their reality more closely matches the rejects of a free market system. If your philosophy matches your reality, you can cope a lot better with your circumstances, more easily accepting your fate.

  10. I think we need to see this from the homeless persons perspective. The conservative view allows them, all of us, to blame government and “liberals” for our failures.
    Synonymous with conservative perspectives are the two pillars, God and business. Well blaming God does not really go anywhere so that is out. And blaming business would mean that one is homeless because one is a financial failure.
    On the opposite affiliation side we have the same identity crisis. If a homeless person identities with government then he has admitted he is helpless anb dependent.

  11. Many of the ultra right wingers are overtly anti-intellectual and make claims and arguments based on emotion, not intellect. They’re demagogues, they don’t use clear or critical thinking, the message is more about the medium or the delivery and not the actual content at all. Many homeless, poor, indigent, are in that situation because they have not learned how to think critically and make good decisions likely to have sound and productive result. Everything is based on emotions, how it “feels.” So the arguments of the wacko right wing-dings really resonate with others who also don’t “think” but respond emotionally. Basically, stupid people are attracted to stupid ideas, and stupid people tend to not do so well in life, unless the are lucky, but then of course, in that case, because they are stupid, they will attribute their own hard work for keeping them out of poverty.

  12. Perhaps homeless people have believed everything the extreme Right espouses, lived accordingly, and ended up homeless anyway, but can’t bring themselves to admit they have been had.

    I have been close to one homeless person — a painful subject — but without going into details, I note that while not politically conservative at all, he had an extreme paranoia of cooperating with *any* system that had been set up to help him. He was too afraid that if he surrendered personal information, agreed to any side of a bargain needed to get assistance flowing, then somehow someone was going to “get” him and he would never be free again. So not until he collapsed from illness in the street did he receive anything like aid and care.

    That pathologically distrustful attitude reminds me of many hardcore conservatives.

    I have also seen a great embrace of punitive conservative attitudes among people who seemed like gluttons for punishment in their life generally. The idea that people with power deserve it, and that people who have not succeeded in annexing any power deserve only to grovel, appears to be alive and well.

    • It seems nearly silly to observe that your homeless friend was probably suffering from a psychiatric illness. However, your comment about “pathologically distrustful” people reminding you of many conservatives makes me chuckle, because most political extremists strike me as pathologically distrustful.

  13. Hi Paul,
    I think that the conservative propaganda appeals to some basic human tendencies (us v/s them, selfishness, fear) and is overly simplistic to preach and follow. So it is likely that an individual who has lost their home, suffering from trauma, depression, addiction or other psychological issues, is gullible to such propaganda and may find it challenging to think independently. It might be interesting to hear perspectives from erstwhile homeless people who are now living the life of a commoner.

    Hope you are doing well!
    Priyank

  14. Wise Fool: Sadly, we do have ONE political party in this country when it comes to fundamental policies and world view. jonaloon is actually correct in that his views are dominant. At least until one starts to look at the implications of these views closely and compare them with how the people who run the system really game the system in a way which belies the very beliefs they claim. I see “conservatism” as a con game.

    • I think a con game aptly describes what conservatism has become in this country, Brian. I don’t believe it was quite a con game back in Dwight Eisenhower’s day, though. But things change.

  15. Many people have this idea, which they cling to against all reason, that they will be the lucky exception to the ills that can befall a person in a society with gaping holes in its social safety net. I remember driving through a neighborhood of multimillion dollar houses with a woman who earned a few dollars above minimum wage as a caregiver in a group home. She aspired to own such a home and believed that she would someday. “I’ll get there,” she told me. “I’ll just have to work very hard.” She had no plans to obtain more education or training, no plans to start her own business, no plans to do anything other than what she was already doing– working very hard. She just thought that if she worked hard enough, put in more hours once her son got older, that she would somehow be able to afford one of those properties. When our education system turns our people who do not even realize that they need to apply math to such a situation to predict possible outcomes, then our education system has as good as fed people like this woman propaganda to the effect that anyone can achieve the American dream, no matter what the odds, no matter what the practical barriers. For more than twenty years, I have believed that it suits the 1% (as we now call them) and their petty appointees to maintain a failing education system. It certainly makes it easier to get people to vote for governments that will kick them in the teeth when those people believe that if they worked hard enough, they would have unbreakable teeth.

  16. I am one of those homeless conservatives. I am a conservative because I studied math when I was in school and plus I have owned my own business. I would still be self employed if not for some drug addicted liberal stealing my vehicle with all my tools in it. I do not get food stamps because I do not think it is the governments place to take care of me. I can and will make it on my own. I do not need help or want it. If not for so called good people trying to help me by hiring me to do a job and then not paying once the work was done I would already be back where I want to be.

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