New psychological research shows there are substantial differences in how the minds of Republicans/Conservatives and Democrats/Liberals work.
(Author’s Advisory: There is inflammatory racist language used in a quotation in this article. The words used are unchanged because they are used in a direct quote and to edit them out would alter the intent of what the party quoted meant.)
Now that Thanksgiving is over and you have had your annual fight with your conservative Uncle Willard about why what he is repeating from Fox News is not correct, once again you are probably asking yourself, “Why won’t he listen to facts?”. New psychological research has begun to understand why he doesn’t listen to your facts, he can’t. His brain isn’t wired to do that. But he probably doesn’t listen to his wife/significant other, either.
Back in 1992, relationship counselor John Gray wrote a best-selling and entertaining book about the differences in how men and women think “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus”.
Here are two quotes from the book that best describe how differently men and women think.
“To offer a man unsolicited advice is to presume that he doesn’t know what to do or that he can’t do it on his own.”
“Generally speaking, when a woman offers unsolicited advice or tries to help a man, she has no idea of how critical and unloving she may sound to him.”
As we will see shortly, the first quote sounds like the conservative mind talking and the second quote sounds like the liberal mind talking. Let us take this one step further: let us understand the basic information about Mars and Venus in mythology.
Now if you put Gray’s quotes and the characteristics of Mars and Venus into the context of today’s politics, this fully explains the differences between Republicans/Conservatives and Democrats/Liberals. Republicans/Conservatives are from Mars and Democrats/Liberals are from Venus.
For the record, Mars and Venus were lovers at one time. But they developed a bad relationship that needed fixing. Now Republicans and Democrats were never political “lovers”, but they do have a bad relationship in critical need of fixing. But that relationship will never get fixed until, like in any relationship, both sides learn how to resolve their differences to be able to reach mutually acceptable solutions, or just accept that some issues are beyond solving.
There has been extensive recent psychological, political and social research analyzing the differences in how the conservative and liberal minds work and how this difference in cognition affects beliefs. Professor John Hibbing from the University of Minnesota did ground breaking research and writes in “Differences in negativity bias underlie variations in political ideology” (Permission Granted)
Disputes between those holding differing political views are ubiquitous and deep-seated, and they often follow common, recognizable lines. The supporters of tradition and stability, sometimes referred to as conservatives, do battle with the supporters of innovation and reform, sometimes referred to as liberals. Understanding the correlates of those distinct political orientations is probably a prerequisite for managing political disputes, which are a source of social conflict that can lead to frustration and even bloodshed. A rapidly growing body of empirical evidence documents a multitude of ways in which liberals and conservatives differ from each other in purviews of life with little direct connection to politics, from tastes in art to desire for closure and from disgust sensitivity to the tendency to pursue new information, but the central theme of the differences is a matter of debate.
In this article, we argue that one organizing element of the many differences between liberals and conservatives is the nature of their physiological and psychological responses to features of the environment that are negative. Compared with liberals, conservatives tend to register greater physiological responses to such stimuli and also to devote more psychological resources to them”
To summarize the good Professor Hibbing’s work, the conservative mind responds to fear, the liberal mind responds to facts. This work has been confirmed by other researchers. Professor Dan M. Kahan of Yale University published “Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government”. Professor Kahan writes:
In our experiment, we presented subjects with a difficult problem that turned on their ability to draw valid causal inferences from empirical data. As expected, subjects highest in Numeracy—a measure of the ability and disposition to make use of quantitative information—did substantially better than less numerate ones when the data were presented as results from a study of a new skin-rash treatment. Also as expected, subjects’ responses became politically polarized—and even less accurate—when the same data were presented as results from the study of a gun-control ban. But contrary to the prediction of SCT, such polarization did not abate among subjects highest in Numeracy; instead, it increased. This outcome supported ICT, which predicted that more Numerate subjects would use their quantitative-reasoning capacity selectively to conform their interpretation of the data to the result most consistent with their political outlooks.
To summarize the good Professor Kahan’s work, when provided the same factual information, conservatives and liberals draw different conclusions, based upon their existing political orientation and beliefs.
In 2003, New York University social scientist professor John Jost set off a conservative backlash when he published “ Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition”, a compendium based upon other research on this topic. Professor Jost writes:
Analyzing political conservatism as motivated social cognition 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)….. 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.
Writing in “Behavioral and Brain Science”s in response to Professor Hibbing a decade later, Jost and his fellow scholars note that:
There is by now evidence from a variety of laboratories around the world using a variety of methodological techniques leading to the virtually inescapable conclusion that the cognitive-motivational styles of leftists and rightists are quite different. This research consistently finds that conservatism is positively associated with heightened epistemic concerns for order, structure, closure, certainty, consistency, simplicity, and familiarity, as well as existential concerns such as perceptions of danger, sensitivity to threat, and death anxiety. [Italics added]
To summarize the good Professor Jost’s works: conservatives are afraid of change. No, they are petrified of change.
Finally, Assistant Professor of Government at Dartmouth University, Brendan Nyhan, conducted his own research. Nyhan and his collaborators have been running experiments trying to answer this terrifying question about American voters: Do facts matter to conservatives at all?
The answer, basically, is no. When conservatives are misinformed, giving them facts to correct those errors only makes them cling to their beliefs more tenaciously.
People who thought WMDs were found in Iraq believed that misinformation even more strongly when they were shown a news story correcting it.
People who thought George W. Bush banned all stem cell research kept thinking he did that even after they were shown an article saying that only some federally funded stem cell work was stopped.
People who said the economy was the most important issue to them, and who disapproved of Obama’s economic record, were shown a graph of non-farm employment over the prior year – a rising line, adding about a million jobs. They were asked whether the number of people with jobs had gone up, down or stayed about the same. Many, looking straight at the graph, said down.
But if, before they were shown the graph, they were asked to write a few sentences about an experience that made them feel good about themselves, a significant number of them changed their minds about the economy. If you spend a few minutes affirming your self-worth, you’re more likely to say that the number of jobs increased.
To summarize the good Professor Nyhan’s work: don’t bother conservatives with facts. They believe what they believe based upon their fears, unless they can feel good enough about themselves to change their beliefs. Their beliefs are essential to who they are.
Unfortunately, for the unity and governance of the whole nation, it was the Republican political geniuses, Lee Atwater and Frank Luntz, in combination with Newt Gingrich, who understood these concepts all too well.
Lee Atwater was President Ronald Reagan’s and Presidential Candidate George Herbert Walker Bush’s political advisor during the 1988 political campaign. His campaign work was rewarded by his nomination as the chairman of the Republican Committee after Bush won the Presidency.
[It’s a matter of] how abstract you handle the race thing. In other words, you start out … Now y’all aren’t quoting me on this … you start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff.
And you’re getting so abstract now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites…. “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
GOP pollster Frank Luntz conducted focus groups for Grand Old Party Action Committee (GOPAC) about the use of language in politics called “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control”. The Georgia Congressman (at that time) Newt Gingrich understood that Luntz’s findings were consistent with Atwater’s Southern Strategy. He distributed Luntz’s work to all GOP candidates for use in the 1994 elections.
Often we search hard for words to help us define our opponents. Sometimes we are hesitant to use contrast. Remember that creating a difference helps you. These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast. Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals and their party.
decay… failure (fail)… collapse(ing)… deeper… crisis… urgent(cy)… destructive… destroy… sick… pathetic… lie… liberal… they/them… unionized bureaucracy… “compassion” is not enough… betray… consequences… limit(s)… shallow… traitors… sensationalists… endanger… coercion… hypocrisy… radical… threaten… devour… waste… corruption… incompetent… permissive attitudes… destructive… impose… self-serving… greed… ideological… insecure… anti-(issue): flag, family, child, jobs… pessimistic… excuses… intolerant… stagnation… welfare… corrupt… selfish… insensitive… status quo… mandate(s)… taxes… spend(ing)… shame… disgrace… punish (poor…)… bizarre… cynicism… cheat… steal… abuse of power… machine… bosses… obsolete… criminal rights… red tape… patronage
Use the list below to help define your campaign and your vision of public service. These words can help give extra power to your message. In addition, these words help develop the positive side of the contrast you should create with your opponent, giving your community something to vote for:
share… change… opportunity… legacy… challenge… control… truth… moral… courage… reform… prosperity… crusade… movement… children… family… debate… compete… active(ly)… we/us/our… candid(ly)… humane… pristine… provide… liberty… commitment… principle(d)… unique… duty… precious… premise… care(ing)… tough… listen… learn… help… lead… vision… success… empower(ment)… citizen… activist… mobilize… conflict… light… dream… freedom… peace… rights… pioneer… proud/pride… building… preserve… pro-(issue): flag, children, environment… reform… workfare… eliminate good-time in prison… strength… choice/choose… fair… protect… confident… incentive… hard work… initiative… common sense… passionate”
President Ronald Reagan, with all his consummate communication skills, knew how to use those words and ideas to his advantage. He repeatedly used the real story of Linda Taylor of Chicago, who did rob the welfare system, into the creation of the ubiquitous “Welfare Queen”. She was used as a coded reference to blacks being lazy and criminals. The lower class whites lapped this up, the targets of the Southern Strategy, because it reinforced what they wanted to believe about blacks and the welfare system.
Linda Taylor, the haughty thief who drove her Cadillac to the public aid office, was the embodiment of a pernicious stereotype. With her story, Reagan marked millions of America’s poorest people as potential scoundrels and fostered the belief that welfare fraud was a nationwide epidemic that needed to be stamped out. This image of grand and rampant welfare fraud allowed Reagan to sell voters on his cuts to public assistance spending. The “welfare queen” became a convenient villain, a woman everyone could hate. She was a lazy black con artist, unashamed of cadging the money that honest folks worked so hard to earn.
Twenty years later, the Republican Party, especially the members of the highly conservative Tea Party, still uses those words and ideas. The Liberals/Democrats, in their infinite belief in rationality, facts and the goodness of mankind, still have not figured out how to counter the use of these words. And the rhetoric using those words has gotten meaner and harsher. Words like “makers and takers” and “nanny state” are used as a reference to blacks and Latinos and are specifically meant to inflame the conservative/Republican Fox News watchers.
The problem is the use of those words do not constitute any ideas about governing or how to lead while in office. But they have created a culture of hate and intolerance. The rise of white supremacist movements and secessionists that the FBI now views as the number one threat to out country is directly associated with the racial hatred of President Barack Obama. This has infected the culture of government that has led to two years of political gridlock on Capitol Hill.
The Republicans/Conservatives are from Mars and the Democrats/Liberals are from Venus. These differences have split the country into North versus South and lower class and lower middle class whites versus everyone else. The Republicans know how to use the psychology of words to push the emotional triggers of fear that motivate their conservative base, whose voting en masse won them the 2014 midterm elections. The Republican candidates mostly ran against the policies of President Obama more than specifically against their opponents.
These voters now expect the Republicans controlling the House and Senate to represent their hate and need for vengeance that has been stirring since Ronald Reagan was in office. These voters want an end to “the nanny state”, even though many of them receive the benefits of it: food stamps, welfare checks and Social Security. It was the false hope and lack of understanding of the Democrats/Liberals ( and much of the country) that the election of President Barack Ohama would lead to the end of this hatred and political schism. The inevitable cultural change that non-whites will eventually outnumber whites cannot be accepted and will not be tolerated by the angry white male conservative mind.
There was no way the closing of this schism was ever going to happen. The distance between groups can only be measured in the light-years and galaxies separating those whose politics are based upon fear and those whose politics are based upon facts. It’s Mars versus Venus.
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Copyright December 2014, Michael A. Maynard