We don’t like saying ”I told you so.” Really, we don’t. But we did mention the last-minute spate of studies and books released during each election-cycle that attempt to define – often unflatteringly - the psychological profile of members of each of the two major parties.
Now, just in time for the midterm elections, an article in Miller-McCune does exactly that.
It features snippets of findings from the research of evolutionary psychologists and others. Their findings? Let’s begin with one: Conservatives have lots of friends and Liberals don’t.
While we only have anecdotal evidence and are fortunate to have a very wide mixture of friends from both persuasions, we say (not very eruditely, but very honestly): Huh?
And regarding what the researchers say is Conservative propensity towards a dominance-type of “operating system” and Liberal towards one of submission: Republicans “have a lower threshold for processing threatening stimuli from ambiguous social information.” Democrats, on the other hand, “showed greater emotional distress, including higher rates of crying behaviors, trait aggression, emotional pain and lower life satisfaction.”
And a hodge-podge of other findings, and comments on said findings by the article’s author, including the perennially popular “doubtful conclusion-drawing.”
In this instance the conclusions being drawn regard research that shows that people become more conservative as they get older. But the conclusions the author reaches fly in the face of logic: Of course, an older person who has accumulated a lot of wealth can presumably still demonstrate capacity to influence others — say, in the form of giving big donations to favorite causes. In Vigil’s framework, this would keep him or her on the conservative side of the divide.
We say: Go tell it to 80 year old George Soros!
Other questionable logic? How about: It also raises the intriguing question of whether Medicare and Social Security, in removing much of the vulnerability from old age, has disrupted what would otherwise be an expected movement to the left.
We don’t think that Social Security (and Medicare, since the recent major cutbacks) is something that has removed “much of the vulnerability from old age.” Ask anyone (we did!) who has tried to live on Social Security. And since Liberals are far more supportive of the Social Security program than Conservatives, wouldn’t that lead to more of the elderly voting Democrat, not Republican?
While the findings are intriguing, some of the questions and conclusions just don’t add up. (There are more—check out the article, it really is jam-packed).
Our evidence is anecdotal but we firmly believe that both Liberal Democrats and Conservative Republicans can have a wide range of personality traits and a wide range of reasons for holding their political beliefs.
Perhaps, as the research seems to imply, most align with a party because of “personality” (or gut feelings about what’s right). But what about those of us who have thought deeply about the issues and have decided to choose their political outlook based on intellectual and moral reasoning? Since people change parties and political philosophies all the time (Arianna Huffington and Steve Baldwin spring to mind), presumably many, or at least some, think hard about what they believe before they solidify – or change – their allegiance.
Finally, while intriguing, we caution each of to keep in mind that studies can be flawed for a variety of reasons (not least of which is the personal bias of even the most well-intentioned researcher), as this post by PsychCentral’s Dr. Grohol and our post that we mentioned earlier in this article, discuss.
“Democracy is the only system that persists in asking the powers that be whether they are the powers that ought to be.” ~ Sydney J. Harris
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Last reviewed: 28 Oct 2010