The following passage is worth noting. It's actually part of a conversation with Saunders' partner, Steve Jarding:
"[Mark Gersh's] data suggested formerly Democratic rural voters were voting Republican out of habit, and largely on cultural issues, but they weren't necessarily satisfied customers....25 years after the Reagan Democrat phenomenon, "they said they hadn't gotten a damn thing for that vote. 'Our infrastructure is falling apart, we don't have any jobs here, we can't make a living.' According to Gersh's research, they were pissed off. Gersh said, 'They're voting Republican, but they're not Republican. You can get them back.'
...."If you say to them, 'You're voting against your own economic interest,' is that true? Damn right, it's true. But it sounds belittling. It sounds like you're saying, 'You're an idiot.' No, Democrats, you're the idiots. They're voting on their values. They're voting on something out there, because the other side gave them something to vote on. You've given them nothing, and while you're doing that, suicide rates are up. Unemployment rates are up. Wages are down — it's a terrible mess in rural America.""
This gets to an issue I've long had with the whole "voting against their economic interests" argument: I don't think it's true. Seriously now, try to answer this question in a concrete way: if you were an average joe in a rural part of the South or the Midwest, how would it help you to vote for a Democrat? What would you get out of it?
A higher minimum wage? Maybe, but even in the rural South most people already make more than the minimum wage. Medicare and Social Security? They already exist. Money for roads? Republicans do that too. More labor friendly laws? That doesn't resonate much in the South, and in any case they probably don't believe that Dems can deliver on that anyway.
So exactly what economic interests are they voting against? Forget the Krugmanesque (or Drumesque) arguments about regressive taxes or rising income inequality. They may be true, but they're way too abstract. If you want to convince these guys that their economic interests lie with Democrats, we need to offer them something real: local clinics, free healthcare, tax rebates, something. Right now, I don't think these voters believe that Democrats are actually promising anything that would make a genuine difference in their lives.
In other words, it's not that values have drowned out the economic arguments, it's that no one's even making the economic arguments in language that means anything to these guys. Until we start, we'll never really know for sure whether or not values trump economics, will we?