Listen up, Trump voters: Red states are the real moochers, and that's why you're better off backing Bernie

If Republicans understood how poor they really are, they'd stop backing candidates who aren't looking out for them

By Sean Illing
Published January 7, 2016 6:45PM (EST)
  (Reuters/Jim Young/AP/Robert F. Bukaty/Photo montage by Salon)
(Reuters/Jim Young/AP/Robert F. Bukaty/Photo montage by Salon)

The Republican Party, and conservatives in general, complain constantly about the “moochers” and the “takers” and the “freeloaders” on the Left. On their account, it’s the liberal leeches in the blue states who want free stuff from Uncle Sam, who live off the tax dollars of hard-working Americans. This is the narrative continually spun by the GOP and by right-wing ideologues.

Well, it’s not even remotely true, and the data proves it. The latest study, published Wednesday by the Tax Foundation, confirms what we’ve known for a long time: Conservative states rely disproportionately on federal funding for revenues.

The Washington Post summed up the findings nicely:

“The relationship is loose, although the overlap is real: Five states are among both the 10 most conservative and the 10 most reliant on federal funds. Four states are among both the 10 most liberal and the 10 least reliant on federal funds…A rough pattern emerges by region, too. The South is home to five of the 10 most reliant states. The West and Midwest are each home to two, and the Northeast is home to one. Of the 10 states least reliant on federal revenue, four are in the West, three are in the Northeast, two are in the Midwest and one is in the South.”

So it’s the rugged individualists in the South who suck endlessly on the government’s teat, not the “limousine liberals” in New York and California. If you live in Mississippi or Kentucky or Louisiana or Tennessee or Georgia or Alabama or South Carolina, you likely receive more in federal assistance than you pay in taxes.

The reality, in other words, is that the blue states have subsidized the red states for decades.

The new Tax Foundation study is but another reminder of the rank hypocrisy of conservatives, especially as it relates to federal spending. Republicans lament the mushrooming government year after year, and they foment hysteria about socialism and minorities on food stamps and welfare queens. And yet it’s Republicans who depend most on government while condemning it in the abstract.

The lack of self-awareness among conservatives is what keeps them blind to their own needs and interests. Indeed, it’s what keeps them safely under the Republican tent. As I argued last month, “Trump supporters, if they weren’t blinkered by racism, would be supporting someone like Bernie Sanders, who actually represents their interests.”

Sanders platform isn’t radical at all; it’s consistent with a long tradition of Democratic socialism in this country. The states – and the individuals – least likely to vote for Sanders (or any other progressive candidate) are the very states and people who would most benefit from his policies. These are the people who decry social safety nets, who champion personal accountability, while living in states that wouldn’t survive without the aid and work of others. The Medicaid payments, the support for infrastructure projects, the education funding and the housing grants – most of this comes from the government conservatives want to dismantle, from the government they assume is their enemy.

If Republicans – particularly Southern Republicans – understood how poor they really are, if they had any idea how dependent they’ve become, they’d worry less about imaginary tyrannies and more about the Republicans they’ve sent to Washington to undermine their economic interests.

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Sean Illing

Sean Illing is a USAF veteran who previously taught philosophy and politics at Loyola and LSU. He is currently Salon's politics writer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Read his blog here. Email at

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2016 Elections Aol_on Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Republican Party Socialism Tax Foundation