STUDY: The Bigger Your Lottery Win, The More Right Wing You Become

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard tries her luck. Photo Paul Kane/Getty Images

The old saying that people vote with their wallets now extends to lottery winners, with a landmark study by two economics professors finding that the luckier people are when they win the lottery, the more they swing to the political right.

Prof. Nick Powdthavee, from the University of Melbourne, currently based at the London School of Economics, and Prof. Andrew Oswald from The University of Warwick surveyed 541 lottery winners, with a windfall of between £500 and £200,000 (A$9100-$365,000), to produce Does Money Make People Right-Wing and Inegalitarian? A Longitudinal Study of Lottery Winners .

Those amounts seem modest, however the study concluded that the bigger the win, the more people tilt to the right – a transformation that takes place after their luck changes.

While researchers have long documented the correlation between increasing wealth and support for conservative political parties, the surprise in this new study is that the lottery winners also became less egalitarian.

Professor Oswald said the scientific roots of a person’s political views were poorly understood, so they set out to explore two possibilities, whether the viewpoint is motivated by morality or what some economists presume – that voting choices is made out of self-interest and is then embroidered in the mind with a form of moral rhetoric.

The study made him doubtful of the view that morality was an objective choice.

“In the voting booth, monetary self-interest casts a long shadow, despite people’s protestations that there are intellectual reasons for voting for low tax rates,” he said.

The professors believe their findings have bigger implications for the way democracy works. Professor Powdthavee said it demonstrates our ethics are flexible.

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

The lottery winning effect is far stronger for males than females, but the economics researchers are not sure why, but they also found that lottery recipients are more sympathetic to the belief that ordinary people ‘already get a fair share of society’s wealth’, so they better off you are, the more you think those lower down the economic ladder are doing just fine too.

Winning a few thousand pounds in the lottery has an effect on right-wingness that is just under half of completing a good standard of education (i.e. A-levels) at high school.

No-one scored a motza, so they don’t yet know what happens when you become an instant millionaire.

“We’d certainly love to be able to track the views of the rare giant winners if any lottery company would like to work with our research team,” Prof Oswald said.

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