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
One of the main ideas behind the moral foundation theory is that greater understanding of the differences between liberals and conservatives will lead to less demonization of the other side. This is a goal that is shared by liberals and conservatives alike. However, most of the people who work on this theory are liberal and most of our friends are liberal, so when we see this theory in action, we are possibly getting only one side of the picture.
For example, one of the ideas is to help liberals realize that conservatives do care about the harm and fairness foundation and so we should stop thinking of them as 'heartless'. Conservatives simply care about other things as well. Anecdotally, this seems like it works as I have a few liberal friends who have softened their attitudes toward conservatives through greater understanding.
Does the opposite work? Are conservatives less likely to demonize liberals upon hearing that liberals have fewer moral foundations they care about? I blogged about this anecdotally here, but there is a more objective way to test this, specifically to see if there is a difference between liberals and conservatives in terms of endorsing moral relativism (or it's opposite, moral absolutism). The idea is that some people feel that there is one system of morals that one should go by, while others are more willing to accept the idea that some people live by one moral system and others live by another. We have a survey on yourmorals.org which deals with this issue and below are the results (green=me).
So liberals do score higher on moral relativism than conservatives. BTW, moral idealism is the idea that it is sometimes necessary to make moral tradeoffs (ie. kill 1 person to save 10).
For further confirmation, let's take a look at conservatives and see how 'very conservative' individuals rate on moral relativism vs. 'slightly conservative' individuals.
It looks like there is a pretty clear trend that the more conservative you are, the less of a moral relativist you are. Indeed, in my opinion, this is one reason why people like Ann Coulter see liberals as 'immoral'. If you believe that loyalty is an objective absolute moral, then people who don't believe in loyalty are immoral.
So where does this leave those of us who research moral foundations? Perhaps we need to collect data on actual reactions to our theories so as to see if understanding really does bring people together. And perhaps we need to further refine our take home messages if we really do want to achieve the goal of reduced demonization of the 'other' in American politics.