It won’t surprise you to know that rich people typically lean right politically. But why is it so? Are they motivated by deeply moral views or self-interest? Well, Andrew J Oswald, Professor of Economics at the UK’s Warwick University set out to find if it was just the money makes you right-wing. He did so by studying lottery winners in the UK and found that the winners are more likely to switch their allegiance from left to right.
Prof. Oswald writes that the scientific roots of people’s political views are poorly understood.
One possibility (View 1) is that individuals’ attitudes to politics and redistribution are motivated by deeply moral views. Another possibility (View 2) – and this is perhaps some economists’ presumption — is that voting choices are made out of self-interest and then come to be embroidered in the mind with a form of moral rhetoric. Testing between these two alternative theories is important intellectually. It is also inherently difficult. That is because so many of our attitudes as humans could stem from early in life and are close to being, in the eyes of the researcher, a ‘person fixed-effect’.
In a search for the answer Prof. Oswald hit upon the idea of looking at what happens to lottery winners who suddenly come upon their money. He argues that looking at lottery winners through time, provides longitudinal evidence consistent with the second, and some might argue more jaundiced, view, namely the View 2 of human beings. He and his research colleague thus analysed a panel data set in which people’s political attitudes were recorded annually.
n our data set, many hundreds of individuals serendipitously receive significant lottery windfalls. We find that the larger is their lottery win, the greater is that person’s subsequent tendency, after controlling for other influences, to switch their political views from left to right. We also provide evidence that lottery winners are more sympathetic to the belief that ordinary people ‘already get a fair share of society’s wealth’.
We are able to observe people before and after a win. Access to longitudinal information gives us advantages denied to most previous researchers on this topic. One reason this is important is because it seems plausible that personality might determine both the number of lottery tickets bought and the political attitudes of the person, and this might thereby lead to a possible spurious association between winning and right-leaning views. We provide, among other kinds of evidence, a simple graphical demonstration that winners disproportionately lean to the right having previously not been right-wing supporters.
The formal study draws upon a nationally representative sample from the British population. In our regression equations we focus particularly upon a sub-sample of people (a fairly large proportion, given the lottery’s popularity in the UK) who have ever had a lottery win. Within this group, we are especially interested in the observed longitudinal changes in political allegiance of the bigger winners compared to the smaller winners. Our key information stems from 541 observations on lottery wins larger than £500 and up to approximately £200,000.