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Friday
Nov022012

Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition

 Click to see where to vote.

In their study "Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition" (Psychological Bulletin, Vol 129, No. 3, 2003), John Jost of Stanford University and Jack Glaser of U. Cal-Berkeley summarize the findings of many studies on political conservativism. They find conservativism to be something that involves much more than a static, individual opinion:

"The core ideology of conservatism stresses resistance to change and justification of inequality and is motivated by needs that vary situationally and dispositionally to manage uncertainty and threat."

Jost and Glaser's broad and thorough analysis of conservativism—as contrasted with liberalism, radicalism, and left-wing ideology—goes beyond politics in the U.S. to include 22,818 cases from 88 samples in 12 different countries.

The study integrates "theories of personality (authoritarianism, dogmatism–intolerance of ambiguity), epistemic and existential needs (for closure, regulatory focus, terror management), and ideological rationalization (social dominance, system justification)."

What Makes A Conservative?

The study's findings confirm these psychological variables are associated with having a conservative political ideology. Variables most positively coorelated (with their r-values) are:

  • Death anxiety (r = +.50)
  • System instability (r = +.47)
  • Dogmatism, intolerance of ambiguity (r = +.34)
  • Need for order, structure, closure (r = +.26)
  • Fear of threat or loss (r = +.18)

Variables negatively coorelated to conservativism are:

  • Openness to experience (r = –.32)
  • Uncertainty tolerance (r = –.27)
  • Integrative complexity (r = –.20)
  • Self esteem (r = –.09)

R Values?

An r-value in statistics is a measure of the degree of coorelation between two variables. It is a measure of the linear relationship between two things, not the cause of one thing by the other.

A positive r-value means, when an independent variable increases (say, death anxiety), the dependent variable tends to increase as well (conservativism).

A negative r-value means, when an independent variable increases (say, openness to experience), the dependent variable tends to decrease.

R-values range between +1 and -1, with a value of zero meaning the two variables are not correlated at all.

2012 Choice Summary: Fear vs. Openness

Because conservative strategists know these psychological coorelations, they exploit them by increasing perceptions of uncertainty, loss, and threats using dogmatic lies and intolerant arguments.

The simple fear of system instability—not actual, complex economic policy—makes middle- and low-income people vote in the interests of the wealthy, who in turn have the ability to make the economic system seem unstable by removing billions of dollars from circulation and claiming they are doing so because they don't know what's going to happen with policy in Washington.

Hogwash. Don't fall for it. Stop falling for it. Never fall for it again.

Let's vote for someone who recognizes the complexity in the world. Let's choose to have a middle class again. And jobs. And medical care. And forward thinking, civility, and citizenship to solve real problems—not kowtow to our fears and the urge to return to an old order in the name of a nostalgic sense of stability.

Can't you feel your self esteem going up just thinking about it?