moral foundation facts about barack obama and hillary clinton supporters

I recently attended SPSP, the main conference for personality and social psychologists, and met with the people who I work with on Among the things we discussed at the meeting was the idea of reporting results that touch on current events in a more timely fashion, rather than focusing solely on academic publications. In keeping with that, I downloaded data from the website today and compared supporters of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on our main scale, the moral foundations questionnaire.

Here is the table of results:

Obama vs. Clinton Supporter Moral Foundation Profile

Group 1 are people who rated Obama higher than Clinton. Group 2 are people who rated Clinton higher than Obama. There were about 3000 people in this sample who gave them the same rating. The question was “What is your opinion of the politicians listed below?” with ratings running from very unfavorable to very favorable. Note that far more of our visitors had a favorable opinion about Obama vs. Clinton, and most of our sample was collected before the Iowa caucuses gave Obama his first victory. The skew for Obama is probably indicative of our homogenous sample of web savvy New York Times readers, a demographic which Obama has been winning handily in the primaries.

The scores really aren’t radically different, perhaps reflecting the general consensus that many people would be happy with either candidate, but there are some significant results (significance, in social psychology terms, means that there is a 95% chance that there is indeed a true difference between the groups). Specifically, Clinton supporters score higher on the supposedly conservative moral foundations of ingroup loyalty (p<.001), authority (p=.003), and purity (p=.049). Obama supporters score marginally significantly higher on the fairness foundation (p=.087). These results become even more significant if you put the political affiliation of the subject into a regression equation as Clinton supporters tended to rate themselves as more liberal than Obama supporters, which would indicate that all other things being equal, Clinton supporters should have lower scores on loyalty, authority, and purity.  As such, it’s even more interesting that her supporters rate loyalty, authority and purity higher, as measured by our moral foundations questionnaire, even though they say they are more liberal.

How can we interpret these results?

One possible interpretation is that Clinton supporters tend to be people who are “loyal” democrats. That means that they identify with being liberal and that they also believe in being loyal to the democratic party structure and respecting the rightful authority within the party. Clinton clearly represents the party structure and the rightful authority better, of the two candidates. So even if her supporters identify with being liberal more, they still tend to be those people who subscribe more to normally conservative ideals about loyalty and authority. For more discussion of liberal versus conservative morality, try this link.

Another possible interpretation is that Obama supporters tend to be better educated (from exit polls) and so they tend to rate themselves as less extreme in their liberalism, as those with higher education levels rarely use the extremes of self report measures. This tendency may exist despite the fact that Obama supporters are actually more liberal according the the moral foundation questionnaire.

It’s worth noting that Clinton supporters rate themselves as more liberal on both economic and social issues, but slightly less liberal on foreign policy issues. A relative majority of our sample was from the New York Times article linked above, which may skew what we can say about our results, but also gives us a relatively homogenous sample which we can use to compare Clinton and Obama supporters. It may be true that among blue collar workers, different factors may explain Clinton-Obama leanings better, but among relatively well educated internet savvy New York Times online readers, this pattern seems to make sense.

Incidentally, we also analyzed Clinton and Obama supporters on the Schwartz Values Scale and found that Clinton supporters were slightly higher on Power, Universalism, and Security, but none of these relationships remained significant when controlling for political orientation. Lastly, we compared scores on the Ethics Position Questionnaire and found that Clinton supporters scored slightly (but statistically significantly) higher on moral relativism, but that’s perhaps a topic for another post.



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