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Would winning $800 or more turn a liberal into a right-winger?

Members of a syndicate of office workers celebrate winning 45.5 million pounds (US$76 million euro50.6 million) after winning a share of the UK's largest ever lottery prize in the Euromillions lottery at the village of Thornton Hough near Liverpool, England, Tuesday Nov. 10, 2009. The winners who work for Hewlett Packard are from the right, John Walsh, Donna Rhodes, James Bennett, Alex Parry, Ceri Scullion, Emma Cartwright and Sean Connor.
AP Photo/Jon Super
These UK office workers won £45.5 million in 2009, which means their chances of voting Tory in 2010 went up.
  • Tim Fernholz
By Tim Fernholz

Senior reporter

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Is a conservative just a liberal with money? Apparently so, say UK economists with access to a huge data set of lottery winners.

Economists Andrew Oswald and Nattavudh Powdthavee adapted data from the British Household Panel Survey, which surveys 25,000 British adults each year on a variety of questions, including political preference and whether they have won the lottery. The two researchers looked at how the political preferences of lottery winners changed (pdf) in the years that they won the lottery, and found that those who had previously voted for the UK’s left-leaning political parties had a tendency to shift to the right—especially if they won more than £500 ($832), and especially if they were men.

“The percentage of people who switched right (conservative), and previously did not vote conservative, after a lottery win.”

The researchers say they are working toward understanding how people obtain their political views, an important question in democratic societies that is under-explored. In this model, the common explanations for political views—pragmatic or ethical considerations—give way to self-interest: An unearned monetary windfall creates a four-percentage-points-greater chance of a previously non-conservative voter supporting a conservative politician.

On one hand, this shouldn’t surprise: In the United States, for instance, there’s long-standing evidence that wealthier voters disproportionately support the conservative Republican party. It’s obviously not an ironclad rule: There are wealthy liberals out there. But the question is which way the causation, if any, goes. Are rich people natural right-wingers or are right-wingers naturally rich? In this study, at least, it’s the wealth that shapes political views, not the virtues of the political views creating wealth.

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