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Friday, September 28, 2018

What Makes Someone Decide to Be a Liberal, Conservative, Libertarian, or Statist?

It irks many of us, regardless of our philosophical orientation, since it implies that our views aren’t necessarily the result of reason.

Politically aware people generally understand the policy differences between conservatives and liberals (as they are currently defined, not classical liberals).

For those who don’t follow politics, there’s an accurate—and amusing—guide from Playboy that explains the difference between Republicans and Democrats.

And it includes libertarians and greens as well, which is a nice touch for those of us with unconventional views.

But what actually causes someone to pick an ideology?

In February, I shared a bunch of research that looked at how various personal characteristics are associated with—and may even cause—political differences.

This is interesting research. Though I suspect it irks many of us, regardless of our philosophical orientation, since it implies that our views aren’t necessarily the result of reason.

According to an article in Business Insider, this type of research even shows that differences extend beyond politics.

…what in the brains of conservative and liberal voters actually drive their belief systems? Scientists have been researching the psychological differences between people with different stances, and there are a few key ways that people on opposite ends of the political spectrum see the world. …Liberal and conservative tastes in music and art are different. …liberals enjoyed more cubist and abstract art. …conservative readers tended to say they’d rather visit Times Square than the Metropolitan Museum of Art. …conservative voters were found to be more likely to agree with statements like: “I often have tender, concerned feelings for my family members who are less fortunate than me.” But their responses suggested such feelings did not extend to people from other countries. Liberals, on the other hand, were more likely to feel that same level of compassion for people around the world, and even to non-human and imaginary subjects like animals and aliens. …A longitudinal study of more than 16,000 people in the UK found that… “Children who showed higher levels of conduct problems—that is, aggression, fighting, stealing from peers—were more likely to be economically left-leaning.”

What about libertarians?

In his Bloomberg column, Professor Tyler Cowen reveals that we are the most thoughtful group.

Libertarians measure as being the most analytical political group. That’s according to something called the cognitive reflection test, which is designed to measure whether an individual will override his or her immediate emotional responses and give a question further consideration. So if you aren’t a libertarian, maybe you ought to give that philosophy another look. It’s a relatively exclusive club, replete with people who are politically engaged, able to handle abstract arguments and capable of deeper reflection.

Trump voters and independents, by contrast, are less informed and more impulsive.

What else can we learn from this new study of political and analytical tendencies, conducted by Gordon Pennycook and David G. Rand of Yale University? …one group that measured as especially nonanalytical was Democrats who crossed party lines and voted for Donald Trump. There is a stereotype of a less well-educated voter, perhaps both white and male, who reacts negatively and emotionally to Hillary Clinton… For all the dangers of stereotyping, the study’s data are consistent with that picture. …independents do poorly on the analytic dimension. …that group measures as relatively impulsive and prone to less informed judgments.

And here’s some research on “free-marketeers” from the U.K.-based Times.

Clever children will probably grow up to have free-market economic views, according to new academic research. The direct link between intelligence and economic conservatism holds true even if the self-interest that high earners have in a lower-tax, free-market economy is taken into account. The authors of the research, Gary Lewis and Timothy Bates, psychologists at Royal Holloway, University of London and Edinburgh University respectively, state: “Intelligence assessed in childhood [ages 10-11] was predictive of adult [30-33] economic conservatism.” …The authors studied data from the 1970 British Cohort Study and the National Child Development Study of 1958, both of which measured the intelligence of more than 17,000 children before they were distorted by educational differences. The authors also adjusted for sex, parental social class and childhood conduct problems.

I like these results, for the obvious reason.

But also notice that the authors adjusted the data based on the assumption that a “lower-tax, free-market economy” generates greater wealth. Interesting (and accurate) admission.

Now let’s consider the statist side of the spectrum.

According to some revised research that was reported by the New York Post, our friends on the left have authoritarian tendencies.

A political-science journal that published an oft-cited study claiming conservatives were more likely to show traits associated with “psychoticism” now says it got it wrong. Very wrong. The American Journal of Political Science published a correction this year saying that the 2012 paper has “an error”—and that liberal political beliefs, not conservative ones, are actually linked to psychoticism. …“The descriptive analyses report that those higher in Eysenck’s psychoticism are more conservative, but they are actually more liberal; and where the original manuscript reports those higher in neuroticism and social desirability are more liberal, they are, in fact, more conservative.” In the paper, psychoticism is associated with traits such as tough-mindedness, risk-taking, sensation-seeking, impulsivity and authoritarianism.

Since we’re on the topic of authoritarianism, let’s close by looking at some new research, reported by PsyPost, that doesn’t reflect well on the right or left.

New research provides evidence that left-wing authoritarian attitudes exist in the United States. The preliminary findings, published in the scientific journal Political Psychology, suggest liberals could be just as likely to be authoritarians as conservatives. …Conway and his colleagues developed a measure of left-wing authoritarianism, which was adapted from the right-wing authoritarianism scale developed by psychologist Bob Altemeyer. …The new LWA scale, on the other hand, asks questions such as: “It’s always better to trust the judgment of the proper authorities in science with respect to issues like global warming and evolution than to listen to the noisy rabble-rousers in our society who are trying to create doubts in people’s minds” and “Our country desperately needs a mighty leader who will do what has to be done to destroy the radical new ways and sinfulness that are ruining us.” …The researchers found that left-wing authoritarianism was associated with liberal views, dogmatism, and prejudice.

In other words, partisans on both sides are tempted to use the coercive power of government to impose their beliefs.

Which underscores why government shouldn’t have much power in the first place!

The good news is that we still have lots of freedom. At least compared to the rest of the world.

The bad news is that we have less freedom than we used to have.

P.S. You could say we’re becoming less like Liberland and more like Senator Murphy’s dystopia.

This article is reprinted with permission from International Liberty.

  • Daniel J. Mitchell is a Washington-based economist who specializes in fiscal policy, particularly tax reform, international tax competition, and the economic burden of government spending. He also serves on the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review.