Powerball jackpot: If you won, would you become more conservative?

Powerball jackpot could make you more conservative? A longitudinal study in Britain found that the politics of lottery winners tend to shift their support to right-leaning political parties.

AP
A display advertises the New York Lottery's Powerball jackpot at the Lasting Impression shop at the Empire State Plaza on Thursday, Jan. 30, in Albany, N.Y.

As the Powerball jackpot nears $300 million, many are no doubt daydreaming about what they would do with such a huge windfall. But few are probably fantasizing that a winning lottery ticket would somehow make them more conservative.

But apparently that's exactly what happens. In a 13-year study of lottery winners in Britain, economists Nattavudh Powdthavee of the University of Melbourne, and Andrew J. Oswald of the University Warwick found that winning the lottery makes a person more likely to shift support from the left-leaning Labour Party to the right-leaning Conservative Party

The study, which appears as part of The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series, or TWERPS, looked at more than 4,000 British citizens who won between £1 ($1.64) and £200,000 in the country's popular national lottery between 1996 and 2009. Most of the winnings were relatively small, with just 541 instances of people winning more than £500.

But of those who won £500 or more and had not previously supported the Tories, 18 percent switched to the party. And the larger the winnings, the more likely a person is to shift to the right.

In addition, the researchers found that lottery winners are more likely to agree with the statement “Ordinary people get a fair share of the nation’s wealth."

The effects of winning the lottery on ones' political beliefs is stronger among males than females, the authors report.

Social scientists have long observed a positive correlation between high income and an antipathy to redistributionist policies, but it had remained unclear whether this antipathy is motivated by ethical principles that had been in place before the high incomes were attained, or if it is prompted by self-interest that, in the words of the authors, comes to be "embroidered in the mind with a form of moral rhetoric."

This study supports the second, more cynical, interpretation of human nature. 

“We are not sure exactly what goes on inside people’s brains”, said Dr. Powdthavee in a University of Warwick press release, “but it seems that having money causes people to favour conservative right-wing ideas. Humans are creatures of flexible ethics.”

In any case, it could be that the best way for a conservative political party to gain new supporters would be to embrace the one policy that they find the most loathsome: giving voters unearned money.

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