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It’s not just the polls

Written By: - Date published: 1:15 pm, July 15th, 2008 - 41 comments
Categories: articles - Tags: , , ,

Jordan Carter posted a month or so back (a little controversially) on how much easier life might be for some on the left if they didn’t believe it was necessary to give due moral regard to others – selfishness certainly seems simpler.

New research suggests that Jordan may well be right. The study has concluded that individuals with conservative ideologies are happier than liberal-leaners. The apparent reason? Conservatives are better at rationalising social and economic inequalities.

“Our research suggests that inequality takes a greater psychological toll on liberals than on conservatives,” the researchers write in the June issue of the journal Psychological Science, “apparently because liberals lack ideological rationalizations that would help them frame inequality in a positive (or at least neutral) light.”

Here’s the article (apologies for the source).

41 comments on “It’s not just the polls ”

  1. roger nome 1

    I wonder if this could be related to the fact that right-wingers (in my experience) tend to come from more privileged backgrounds, and therefore have less personal experience to empathise with socially disadvantaged groups and people.

    Certainly, it’s a well known fact that councillors tend to have personal experience in whatever field they deal in.

    i.e. drug councillors will often be ex drug-addicts, etc… I’ve always thought that this is due to partly their extra incite/understanding of the field, and partly their extra empathy for such people.

  2. roger nome 2

    oops – should have been “insight”…

  3. Stephen 3

    Conservatives in the US tend to be religious, and religious people are usually cited as happier than the non-religious…

  4. jbc 4

    Interesting article. Not quite what I expected. Aren’t righties supposed to be all bitter and twisted?

    Roger: I don’t think it is necessarily a lack of empathy that is the root of this. It seems that the explanation is a step abstracted from the basic emotion – more about how your mind puts it all together in context.

  5. Edosan 5

    I remember an american study some months back about differences in thinking between liberals and conservatives more generally. Apparently some conservatives were a little offended but i think the results are reasonably neutral.

    Here’s an article:

    http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-sci-politics10sep10,0,5982337.story?coll=la-home-center

  6. I’ve also noticed that conservatives have a very limited capacity to handle complexity. Hence the tendency to see everything in black and white terms, go for quick, simple answers to complex problems, etc.

    Hell, left-wing extremists used to sit around trying to impress each other with their grasp of Marxian theory and obscure events in Russia almost a century before. (Maybe still do.) There were some exceptions amongst the right-wing, but I never found many who could intelligently discuss Burke, and a lot of the neo-liberals have a particularly dumbed down understanding of neoclassical economic theory.

    So it’s not just that they don’t care so much, it’s that they don’t understand enough to care, IMHO.

  7. Stephen 7

    There’s some research on charitable giving (conservatives giving more), for whatever reason (would invoke religion again though)

  8. Edosan 8

    Of course, the value of having a grasp of Marxian theory and obscure events in Russia is another question entirely.

    I’ve found i always have a hard time arguing with conservatives in general as the way their minds work takes the conversation down a very limited path. I have other things to say but it would take too long (for me to structure my thoughts and get them out) and they get too impatient.

    grrr, it angers me.

  9. jbc 9

    jafapete, your head is in the clouds, mate.

    Those that discuss Marxian theory and neoclassical economics might make up a fraction of a percent. that doesn’t explain the research.

  10. coge 10

    Back O/T, what an interesting view. My belief, in a very general sense, is those on the right have an abundance mentality, while the left have a scarcity mentality. Holding to any of these views for many years has a great determining effect on an individuals life path.

    Here is a strange & contrasted opinion, but the Ayatollah Khomenhi seemed to have strong left wing views. After the Iranian Revolution, the Ayatollah made a host of promises to the Iranian population. Guaranteed housing for all free education & public transport etc. Later there was some dissent expressed as the price of basic food supplies had gone up by a fair amount.
    Ayatollah Khomenhi expressed surprise, that he expected the population to be content by the type of Govt that had been established & not to concern themselves about the price of food. In a western style democracy such Government attitudes toward economic hard times would usually result in a new govt being elected.

  11. roger nome 11

    jbc:

    “Roger: I don’t think it is necessarily a lack of empathy that is the root of this. It seems that the explanation is a step abstracted from the basic emotion ”

    I didn’t mean a lack of empathy per se – just a lack of empathy with certain people. i.e. when a weathy person’s child dies of cancer they will often donate many millions to cancer research, because their experience has given them empathy for such people.

    Like wise, materially succesful people who have grown up amidst or in poverty will often be lefties, where as people with no personal, emotional expreience with poverty will often be right wing.

    I certainly don’t think it correlates perfectly, because I’m sure there’s many people who don’t fit this model. All I’m suggesting is that it’s probably a significant factor.

  12. Lew 12

    coge: “My belief, in a very general sense, is those on the right have an abundance mentality, while the left have a scarcity mentality.”

    This is probably the sanest thing I’ve heard from you. I think you’re right, and it explains the differences in the consumption mentalities of extremists on both sides (Donald Trump vs agrarian-commune-dwelling subsistence hippies), and by the same token why environmentalism (essentially the proposition that exploitable resources are finite and therefore permanent growth is logically impossible) tends to split along left/right ideological lines.

    Those who believe resources are limited take the view that it’s responsible for mankind to consume less, or perhaps the same, but to share it more evenly, which means some consuming less that others can consume more – while those who believe resources are unlimited want everyone to consume more.

    L

  13. randal 13

    modern conservatism is based on the strength of the relationship to money and energy supplies as the predominant giver of meaning to our otherwise meaningless existence. when the energy is gone then there will be a new revolution based on human attributes as most other resources wil be used up too. any psycholgical weltanschaung is only temporary and for what it is worth never universal either. goodbye yellow brick road.

  14. all_your_base 14

    Hey Stephen, the researchers seem to be claiming that results are independent of “church attendance”.

  15. roger nome 15

    I’ve also seen scientific studies which posit that conservatives are less able to accept changing stimuli, and more able to accept cognitive dissonance (i.e. hold multiple, logically inconsistent views).

    i.e. – this is from edosan’s link

    Previous psychological studies have found that conservatives tend to be more structured and persistent in their judgments whereas liberals are more open to new experiences.

    Perhaps these things are inter-related – i.e. Conservatives are more stressed out by change, and so when they learn new facts that conflict with their current knowledge, they’ll simply ignore it to avoid the stress that changing their mind causes.

    This would also fit in with jafa pete’s argument that “conservatives have a very limited capacity to handle complexity” – i.e. the complex grey areas of reality mean constant re-evaluation of previously held views, which causes them too much stress.

    It also perhaps explains why conservatives are happier. They have an ability to ignore the unhappy truths of reality, which conflict with their world-view, whereas liberals tend to internalise them.

  16. Rob 16

    I don’t believe that sitting down discussing Marxism would make any one happy especially when you think of all the poor people murdered under Stalin that would be enough to touch the most inhumane heart.

    Conservatives are more likely to be happier because they have a true sense of traditional values. Liberals know no boundaries no accountability’s no responsibility.

    Its pretty hard to be happy when you watch your ideal Political system (Communism) fail miserably where ever it has been in place because it couldn’t completely crush the Human belief system. It was great to witness the joy on the faces of those from East Berlin as the wall came down and they were set free from the shackles of communism.

    I guess if you are a Conservative you have a lot look forward to more inspirational and aspirational rather than just being told your good for the Welfare dependency and that’s as good as it gets. Isn’t it fantastic to see how well the majority of Maori’s are doing in Australia when they broken free from the chains of welfare dependency.

  17. Phil 17

    I suspect there are a whole range of ‘lurking variables’ that are producing this correlation. Obviously the present economic situation of the respondent will be a significant determinant in happiness, and is also a factor in political preference.

    Stephen has nailed another possibility – people with religious beliefs tend to be happier than thiose without. Of course, this has very little to do with the actual belief, and more with the sense of community that develops around it… maybe the LWNJ’s that post/comment on The Standard just have no friends? (joking…)

    Nome’s link back to childhood is also interesting. The family’s socio-economic status has consequences for their children’s physical and psychological development, and that this would translate into adult political preference isn’t a stretch.

    jafa,
    “I never found many [conservatives] who could intelligently discuss Burke”

    jbc was being tactful when suggesting your head was in the clouds – it’s clearly somewhere much closer and smellier to home, you obnoxious, arrogant twat. (not joking – you’re a fuckwit…)

    [lprent: Usually you have a better standard than this. I’ll save my comment for you to a later time. I’m about 8 hours late on this one]

  18. roger nome 18

    “Conservatives are more likely to be happier because they have a true sense of traditional values. Liberals know no boundaries no accountability’s no responsibility.”

    That’s just meaningless. Why don’t you try making a rational argument? That’s at leas one thing I know is within the grasp of the conservative mind 🙂

  19. roger nome 19

    “it’s clearly somewhere much closer and smellier to home, you obnoxious, arrogant twat. (not joking – you’re a fuckwit )”

    phil – little advice … from what i’ve seen slinging obscenities at othe users will probably get you banned here.

  20. Phil 20

    Duly note roger, and in this case duly disregarded.

    The attitued displayed by jafapete in his comment speaks volumes about where ‘born to rule’ and ‘we know better than you’ attitudes really lie in the political spectrum, and it sure as hell isn’t centre-right.

  21. “Isn’t it fantastic to see how well the majority of Maori’s are doing in Australia when they broken free from the chains of welfare dependency.”
    I woudln’t think that someone on a benifit could afford to move to australia, its far more likely that they have broken free from the chains of racisim.


    “The attitued displayed by jafapete in his comment speaks volumes about where ‘born to rule’ and ‘we know better than you’ attitudes really lie in the political spectrum, and it sure as hell isn’t centre-right.”

    Not in the Greens either, so must be either National or Act?

  22. Solidarity 22

    The point raised by Jafapete about the left engaging at a deeper academic level is a bit chicken and egg.

    Academics tend to be left wing because the market doesn’t price them as high as they believe they should be (in comparison to the remuneration of other professionals) and that gets them bent out of shape.

    Reaching for the left wing doctrine seems to give them a greater sense of self worth.

    [hilarious. The assumption that everyone bases their self worth on the amount of money they earn is so rightwing. The idea people would even go so far as to adopt a political philosophy to rationalise their comparatively lower incomes is pure comedy. SP]

  23. roger nome 23

    coge: “My belief, in a very general sense, is those on the right have an abundance mentality, while the left have a scarcity mentality.’

    nah – it’s liberals that are more likely to be involved in multi-partner relationships (polyamory). That points to a belief in an abundance of love/affection, whereas conservatives tend to look at those things as scarce resources to be rationed.

  24. MacDoctor 24

    Seeing as we are apparently really into sweeping generalizations today, let me generalize: 🙂

    I think you will find that the right/left political divide is also the divide of individualist Vs Collective thinking. An individualist will tend to see deprivation as something that an individual must address. A good individualist will be willing to give a helping hand to another individual rather than a group. This would be why conservatives not only tend to be more generous of money but also more generous of time – they like working on an individual level.

    Your collective thinker, OTOH, tends to see the problem as a group one and therefore looks for group solutions. A good collectivist would seek to address poverty, rather than a poor person. This is not a bad thing at all (we certainly need both types of people) but helping a group is an intrinsically frustrating thing (whereas helping a single person is often very satisfying). This will be why social thinkers tend to be less happy than individualists and why right wingers are happier than left wingers.

    Note: It has obviously nothing to do with how good or bad people are, How compassionate they are or how dumb/clever they are. You can find good, compassionate, intelligent people in all spheres of the political spectrum (to mix a metaphor).

    Captcha: Swift benefiting – Yes please!

  25. J 25

    “I wonder if this could be related to the fact that right-wingers (in my experience) tend to come from more privileged backgrounds.”

    That’s interesting because most university students and graduates in cushy state sector jobs i.e. privileged, I know tend to believe in some kind of socialism. It’s no good talking them out of it and I just accept it as a youthful indiscretion which will soon correct itself as soon of the financial responsibilities of paying for a family, shouldering a mortgage and seeing the effect of taxes on your gross income becomes apparent.

  26. ants 26

    This is nothing but self righteous BS. The left are happy because they are mainly employed by the public sector or are getting benefits from the government.

    As I’ve stated before there is no moral code involved in voting – 99% of all people vote for selfish reasons – i.e. Student loans, better tax rates, Working For Families, public sector bloat etc etc etc.

    Anyone claiming otherwise is full of it – Ask 10 random voters in the street what they stand to gain if the party they are going to vote for wins the election and I guarantee not ONE of them will mention a moral duty and empathy for other people.

  27. ants. that comment on how you believe others think shows more about you than people in general. The people I’m privileged to call my friends vote for reasons bigger than their own narrow self-interest.

  28. jbc 28

    Edosan (& others): that’s an interesting study referred to at that latimes link.

    I recall some similar topics being touched on in The Blank Slate. It’s an interesting read – even if you don’t agree with Pinker’s conclusions.

  29. Felix 29

    J:

    most university students and graduates in cushy state sector jobs i.e. privileged, I know tend to believe in some kind of socialism.

    In my experience the vast majority of people everywhere in the world believe in some form of socialism, although the terms they use to describe it differ somewhat.

  30. jbc 30

    Felix:

    In my experience the vast majority of people everywhere in the world believe in some form of socialism, although the terms they use to describe it differ somewhat.

    That seems true enough in my experience too.

    I’d add that most people also believe in some form of meritocracy (although perhaps unwittingly for some). They differ in how and where they choose to apply it.

  31. .carla 31

    Has anyone calculated the impact of the 90 day rule on dissuading workers from changing jobs? Why would someone who values a regular wage risk changing jobs if they might be sacked for no good reason and end up with no income? I would have thought that factor would make it even harder for employers to get the staff they need. It also makes it harder for employees who aren’t particularly happy to change to a job they’d like better, or might be better at.

  32. Ari 32

    Back O/T, what an interesting view. My belief, in a very general sense, is those on the right have an abundance mentality, while the left have a scarcity mentality. Holding to any of these views for many years has a great determining effect on an individuals life path.

    In terms of resource consumption, sure. In terms of social freedoms, the opposite tends to be true. 🙂

  33. Anita 33

    .carla,

    Do you think there’s a possible balance here where employers get the right to provide only probationary (recant at whim) employment contracts and employees get a mirroring right to provide probationary (recant at whim) resignations? 🙂

    (yeah yeah, bad on so many levels, but still funny! 🙂

  34. .carla 34

    Hmm. Yeah, funny 🙂 but on a serious level, I think employers get less out of security than staff do.

  35. Anita 35

    .carla,

    No, nor am I.

    With big employers the balance is very clear, a single employee’s need to buy food for their family outweighs the shareholders’ need for a invisibly higher dividend.

    It’s more complex with SMEs, particularly SEs, where one may be balancing the employee’s grocery money against the owner’s. Being able to fire new employees at whim isn’t either necessary or effective at managing that situation.

  36. r0b 36

    Stephen: There’s some research on charitable giving (conservatives giving more), for whatever reason (would invoke religion again though)

    I’ve heard this before, asked for the evidence, and not got it. So Stephen can you point me to your source for this?

    Because the stuff I have seen says the exact opposite, that the poor are more generous with their donations:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2001/dec/21/voluntarysector.fundraising

  37. ak 37

    rOb: the stuff I have seen says the exact opposite, that the poor are more generous with their donations:

    That’s certainly been my observation rOb – based on extensive experience from back in the day when we did door-to-door collections.

    Latterly I’ve found tories will give more to environmental efforts – but the teensy fact that everyone’s overlooked is that they have bucketloads more from which to give: it’s the old Widow’s Mite story, and on a “percentage of income” basis lefties would be miles ahead in my experience – a no-brainer really when you look at the contrast in political attitudes. Dog-eat-dog versus give a mate a hand.

  38. r0b 38

    a no-brainer really when you look at the contrast in political attitudes. Dog-eat-dog versus give a mate a hand.

    And there you have it in a nutshell really.

  39. Ben R 39

    “Stephen: There’s some research on charitable giving (conservatives giving more), for whatever reason (would invoke religion again though)”

    That research is by Arthur C Brooks who also did the research on happiness. Religion does seem to play a big factor.

    “In 2000, religious people gave about three and a half times as much as secular people — $2,210 versus $642. And even when religious giving is excluded from the numbers, Mr. Brooks found, religious people still give $88 more per year to nonreligious charities.”

    “Mr. Brooks agreed that he needed to tackle politics. He writes that households headed by a conservative give roughly 30 percent more to charity each year than households headed by a liberal, despite the fact that the liberal families on average earn slightly more.”

    http://philanthropy.com/free/articles/v19/i04/04001101.htm

    Ak,

    “that the poor are more generous with their donations..
    That is also my experience from a short period doing door to door collections.”

    In my brief experience doing door to door collections I found ‘poor’ areas were quite generous. I didn’t collect in any wealthy suburbs though, so couldn’t compare..

  40. Lew 40

    jcb/Felix: That’s it, I’m starting the Socialist Meritocracy Party. From each according to how awesome other people are, to each according to how awesome she is!

    L

  41. jbc 41

    I’m starting the Socialist Meritocracy Party. From each according to how awesome other people are, to each according to how awesome she is!

    😀

    Unless everyone thinks everyone else is totally awesome then I think I spot a flaw…

    I think the original slogan was closer to the mark – it has a kind of symmetry to it.

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