Many people believe that voters’ positions are determined by their objective self-interest.  I call this the SIVH – the Self-Interested Voter Hypothesis.  A massive body of evidence shows that the SIVH is just plain wrong.  Self-interest has no more than sporadic marginal effects on political views.

Successful politicians usually seem well-aware of the weakness of the SIVH.  To win support, they appeal to the public interest and ideology, not self-interest.  What’s really strange about Romney’s recently revealed gaffe, then, is that he seems to take an extreme version of the SIVH for granted.  “There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.”  Why?  “47% of Americans pay no income tax.”  The mechanism:

[T]here are 47% who are with [Obama], who are dependent upon government, who
believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a
responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to
health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an
entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will
vote for this president no matter what.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.  The 47% won’t vote for Obama “no matter what.”  Almost half of voters who earn less than the median income vote Republican in the typical election.  A person doesn’t support the nanny state because he wants government to take care of him; a person supports the nanny state because he wants government to take care of us.  I say this even though I’m far more opposed to the nanny state than Romney has ever been.

So will false belief in the SIVH destroy Romney’s candidacy?  Probably not.  Given his successful political career, I doubt he sincerely believes the SIVH.  Why would he say it?  Because he was preaching to the faithful – and the faithful love to hear that their opponents are driven by nothing more than base self-interest.