The correlation between income and recent voting outcomes is staggering. The graph above (sourced from YouGov data) has always been, for me, startling. Similar mapping of the US election can be seen, quite firmly linking low income (and low education levels – as we know, the two often go hand in hand) to a tendency to vote for Trump. More than immigration, more than a hatred of foreigners, more than a desire to close off the world we live in, this is, to me, the key factor as to why lots of people voted in the way we didn’t want them to.
And I get it. I grew up poor. In my early years we had some security, thanks to the Army providing everything our family needed – housing, furniture, schooling, a reasonable salary for everything else. But when I was 13, my Dad took voluntary redundancy and we no longer had the security net that the Army provides. My parents both left school at 15 and had no real understanding of what the so-called “real world” was like – no knowledge of financial planning and no qualifications to help with a transfer to employment. Combine that with living in a small town in North Yorkshire, and it led to some difficult years, in which we struggled. Not as much as some, but more than many.
Growing up poor is boredom and drama; despair and hope; incremental changes from government that end up meaning very little in the day to day tedium of life. It means a lack of security and a lack of time to remove yourself from the trap you find yourself in. Most of all, it means judgement from people who have never had to live this way and have no idea and, sometimes, no interest in finding out what it means.
You find yourself clinging on to hope. My particular dream was that we had a long lost relative who would swoop in and rescue us with all their millions. This led to an intense but ultimately fruitless obsession with our family background. This fantasy stayed with me from the time we lived in a homeless unit for six months (I shared a room with my parents for the first three of these) to the weekends when I walked home the five or six miles from my job at Woolworths, ruing the time I could have been spending on my homework or revising for upcoming exams.
So, I can’t begrudge people who play the Lottery each week, even when I see online acquaintances call it an idiot tax. I can’t dismiss someone who didn’t get the opportunity (or knew it existed!) to get an education, when they don’t instinctively know how to fact-check properly. I vehemently disagree with the politics of divisiveness, but can grasp why there are those who seek someone or a group to blame and believe those who should know better that removing this group will bring them the new life they want. It’s all built on hope – win enough money to change your life; believe that leaving the EU will give us all more millions to make things better; cling on to the idea that building a wall and getting rid of the “wrong” people will bring back a mythical golden age from generations ago.
I did not vote for Brexit and I am terrified of what Trump means. We are in a war to save liberalism, the concept of diversity, the idea that everyone matters even if they’re different from you. But we can’t win this war without understanding and empathising with why some people behaved and voted in the way they did. It doesn’t mean agreeing with them, but it does mean recognising our own lack of knowledge about the way poverty makes you live and the lack of change people living in poverty see throughout generations. Perhaps, with that knowledge, we can persuade those on the other side to follow our message of civilised hope, rather than yell at them because the dreams they had went in the wrong direction.