I recently saw 3 posts on fivethirtyeight.com which may seem unrelated to many, but to my admittedly biased perception, which seeks supporting evidence for my thesis that the differing goals of harm reduction vs. productivity increase, underlie much of observed political divisions. These were three interesting and convergent findings. This thesis was first put forth by Morton Deutsch in the seventies and much psychology research on justice/fairness can be explained with this in mind.
I noticed from this Gallup survey on attitudes toward global warming...that the percentage of persons who think global warming is manmade appears to be much higher in predominately Catholic nations than in Protestant ones
The protestant work ethic places an emphasis on the goal of productivity and as such, it would make sense that Protestant countries would have beliefs consistent with perceiving the productivity of business to be more important than the harm caused to the environment.
A Pew survey in January showed a precipitous 15-point decline in the number of American adults who describe global warming as a 'top priority'. Meanwhile, a Gallup poll released last month showed a record number of Americans -- 41 percent -- who claimed that the seriousness of global warming is 'generally exaggerated'. And just last week, a Rasmussen poll had likely voters increasingly skeptical of the idea that global warming is manmade.
The conventional wisdom -- which I do not necessarily dispute -- is that when the economy declines, so does concern over global warming. People have other things on their minds, like losing their jobs or 401K's.
Concern about harm reduction vs. productivity increase is not static. It depends a lot on the situation and on one's interpretation of the situation. If one is in a risky situation or one perceives greater threat, one is likely to value productivity more than concern for others (or the environment). Concern for the harm caused to others is, from an evolutionary perspective, a luxury as when threat is low, there is a genetic benefit to caring for even distant relatives (see Hamilton's rule concerning Kin Altruism). This converges with mortality salience research which shows that the mere reminder of mortality promotes conservative attitudes. Here, constant reminders about the state of the economy is serving as a threat manipulation for the general population.
A new Gallup survey suggests that 80 percent of Republicans think that big government is a bigger threat to the government than big business, versus just 10 percent who think the opposite. This represents an enormous partisan split from Democrats, among whom a majority think that big business is the greater threat. Moreover, the partisan split has grown significantly since 2006; it has now become almost a definitional issue for Republicans.
What does threat mean in this case? My theory would be that big business is a threat to the welfare of the people. Big government is a threat to the productivity of the people. Again, it depends on your goal....productivity or harm reduction.