I made a recent post summarizing the differences between liberals and conservatives from our YourMorals dataset, using the effect size differences between groups and sorting the results from those constructs that are most associated with liberals to those constructs most associated with conservatives. I was asked a followup question as to whether the differences found were indicative of masculine-feminine differences. Indeed, some have written that the Democratic party has become feminized and that is a prime reason why white males generally vote Republican.
Is this true? One way to examine this is to compare the table from the previous post with the below chart of moral psychology differences between women and men. Below are the same constructs, sorted by effect size, with constructs at the top being more associated with men and constructs toward the bottom being more associated with women. I did the same thing for just liberal women/men and just conservative women/men and found the same result, so I feel fairly confident that these differences between men and women are somewhat robust.
The conclusion? First, in comparing the previous liberal-conservative differences to the differences here, it is pretty clear that male-female differences are far lower in magnitude than liberal-conservative differences. The effect sizes are much smaller, meaning that scores of women and men overlap much more than scores of liberals and conservatives. It is clear that male-female differences cannot account for a great deal of the variance in political attitudes.
Second, there are many constructs associated with being female that are indicative of liberalism (valuing universalism, empathizing) as well as traits indicative of conservativism (higher disgust scores, belief in a just world, and being collectivistic). Similarly, there are male traits associated with liberalism (individualism, utilitarianism) and conservativism (attitudes toward war, belief in proportionality).
It is still possible that the Democratic party is emphasizing certain traits, like empathy, that are driving away 'masculine' voters, at the margins. Perhaps overly individualistic and utilitarian individuals are actually identifying as libertarian, an overwhelmingly male group, that is characterized by rational and utilitarian psychological traits.
From a moral psychology perspective, the results are promising for the social intuitionist model that posits that emotional reactivity is the basis for much moral reasoning. The clearest pattern in the data is that women seem more emotionally reactive and men report being more rational. Both have their benefits as at either end of that spectrum are manic-depressives and psychopaths. But this data converges well with previous research indicating that women are, in some instances, more morally and socially conscious. Perhaps this is evidence for a social intuitionist basis of those previous findings.
- Ravi Iyer
I was recently forwarded a question about the differences that exist between Democrats and Republicans amongst white men. The question was framed by the fact that white men appear to be leaving the Democratic party at fairly high rates and it would be useful to pinpoint the variables that lead some white men to desert the Democratic party while others remain.
Individual researchers have individual answers to this question. David Pizarro might focus on the emotion of disgust. At YourMorals, we've focused on moral opinions. Others might focus on approach-avoidance or on basic physiological differences between liberals and conservatives. Jon Jost does a wonderful job summarizing the importance of ideology in helping organize our beliefs to satisfy motivational needs, and then focuses on two organizing principles, resistance to change and acceptance of inequality. All of this research is well done and true, but I think we all suffer (my group included) from an over reliance on our particular perspective. I believe that Jost is correct in pointing out how ideology allows us to make sense of conflicting beliefs, and I would extend that more explicitly to our feelings, intuitions, and goals. Having conflicting beliefs or feelings (e.g. I believe in abortion, but it disgusts me) leads to unpleasant dissonance, and ideology represents a narrative that we can use to resolve this dissonance, as relayed by Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann.
From that perspective, there is no one answer to what causes some white men to grativate toward the Republican party and not others. Rather, it might be useful to look at the bigger picture.
To do this, I created the below table of effect sizes (the mean difference between liberals and conservatives, divided by the standard deviation), using only US white male respondents, sorted from those characteristics that are most characteristic of liberals to those that are more characteristic of conservatives. We have better data on liberal-conservative identification than party identification, so we have to use this as a proxy, but we will have analyses in the future concerning party identification specifically.
There is too much here to really address in one post. I did the same thing for women and the pattern is very similar, so it doesn't appear there are many gender interactions, though maybe someone will point something out. My main reaction is that it confirms my initial idea that all researchers are finding very real differences, but that no line of research has a monopoly on explaining differences. There is replication and support for a number of lines of research on ideological differences. Rather, ideology is a network of ideas, beliefs, and dispositions that encompasses all these findings.
Finding out what made white male liberals vote for McCain might be an even more interesting question, and perhaps I'll do that analysis next as we do have some of that data. I did this previously to examine supporters of Obama vs. Clinton within the Democratic party and feel that examining within party psychological (as opposed to demographic) differences is a vast untapped area for political psychologists. Indeed, if I had to point out one interesting thing in the above graph, it would be the relatively small effect sizes of demographics like age compared to personality variables like neuroticism. It might make just as much sense for Obama to target the "empathic" vote as it does to target the "youth" vote.
- Ravi Iyer
Whenever I bring up the concept of maximizing ("never settling for less than the best"), the discussion inevitably evolves into thinking about what domains a given person maximizes in. For example, I definitely don't maximize in terms of my clothing choices, but am more of a maximizer in my career choice. Actually, even within my career choice, I maximize for some characteristics (sense of purpose, geography, autonomy) more than others (stability, income).
Still, even as this distinction has been pointed out in Barry Schwartz's original book and in subsequent papers, I am not aware of anyone who has attempted to measure maximizing in specific domains (please comment/email me if you know of such research, as I'm guessing that it's out there). Here is a quote from a recent paper:
Although content-free items have several advantages, specific examples may be needed to measure domain specific maximizing tendency, i.e., individual maximizing tendency within particular domains such as consumer purchase. Future research needs to address whether there are systematic variations between individuals’ global maximizing tendency and their propensity for maximizing within given decision making domains, based on for example the degree of involvement.
To answer this question, I modified the original maximizer-satisficer scale and gave the resulting questionnaire to both a sample at yourmorals.org and to a sample of USC students. Below are the reliability coefficients, which won't mean a lot to many people who read this, but are useful in determining if it really is possible to measure domain specific maximizing, simply by taking the original scale's questions and tweaking them to be specific to a domain (e.g. instead of "I never settle for 2nd best", change the question to "In picking a place to live, one should never settle for 2nd best"). More interesting are the domain specific correlations with the satisfaction with life scale, a measure of "happiness".
The reliabilities are fair, meaning that the domain specific scales measure the constructs decently, but not extremely well. Better measures usually have reliabilities around .8. Still, the domain specific measures are comparable to the original scale's reliabilities and the test-retest reliability (asking people the same question a month later) also is similar. I think the fair reliabilities are a result of the fact that maximizing (Nenkov et. al) has since been shown to have multiple dimensions: the search for alternatives, having high standards, and having difficulty making decisions (see this paper).
Beyond reliabilities, I think the best argument for domain specific maximizing is the pragmatic reliability, meaning whether maximizing in different domains predicts different outcomes. From the correlations above, you can see that maximizing in the material/physical domain (shopping, work, a place to live) has negative consequences for life satisfaction, while maximizing in the moral and political decision making domains does not (bold values are significant, click on the graph to zoom in). This is consistent across both samples. In addition, I asked the USC students how much they liked where they live, and the "place to live" subscale had the highest negative relationship (-.33, p<.001) to liking where they lived, followed by shopping (r=-.22) and work (r=-.22). Maximizing in relationships, political decision making and moral decision making were unrelated. At the very least, I think this is good evidence that maximizing is at least different in moral/political decision making versus in consumer decision making. Incidentally, maximizing had a long history in moral philosophy, before it became popular in psychology to think of it in terms of consumption.
One issue with my original scale construction is that I did it before Nenkov's paper that deconstructed maximizing came out, so I did not evenly pick items across subscales. To make sure that the findings above aren't just because of item selection, I ran some analyses for specific matched items that existed in all domain specific scales.
Again, bold values are significant and we see negative correlations only for alternative search questions only in the material domain. This replicates Nenkov's finding in that having high standards does not relate to lower life satisfaction, but always searching for alternatives, no matter how satisfied one is, does relate to lower life satisfaction. However, it appears that this is true only in the material domain (shopping, career, a place to live) and not in moral and political decision making.
Lastly, the case of maximizing in relationships is interesting. The above data isn't conclusive, but it converges with another pattern I've seen when comparing USC students to our YourMorals.org sample. Specifically, relationships appear to play a greater role in happiness in the general population rather than in our student samples. Perhaps loneliness is a bigger issue in the real world than it is within the college campus environment. Or perhaps paying attention to alternatives in relationships is less adaptive as you get older.
- Ravi Iyer