How liberals and conservatives see each other may surprise you

American politics

According to the experts who study political leanings, liberals and conservatives do not just see things differently, they are different—in their personalities and even their unconscious reactions to the world around them. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt may have cracked the code on these differences.

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Research shows that in many ways our public schools have let us down by graduating students who are poorly educated, immature and without much ability for critical thinking.  One observer noted more young Americans, “incapable of a fact based discussion, instead throw slurs to intimidate the counterpart and stop the discussion. On Facebook  they will block you.”

One version of how political philosophies see each other.

Haidt examined the stereotypes conservatives and liberals held about the other and “the results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who described themselves as ‘very liberal.’”

Characterizations of liberals by conservatives pretty tend to be closer on the mark. But leftists are quick to brand conservatives with unfair name calling such as racists, xenophobes and misogynists. The liberals typically and quite clearly miss the point of conservative points of view.

“…more young Americans, “incapable of a fact based discussion, instead throw slurs to intimidate the counterpart and stop the discussion.”

Some of this could explain why, in the past decade, the left has been splintering into different versions of liberal. The central left and central independents are noticing that the far and classic left are seeing things too much in black and white. This supports the results of the research that those on the left think it is the conservatives who are black and white thinkers, but according to the extensive research it is the opposite. Liberals are more likely to riot, march, or raise the specter of “hate speech” if they interpret someone as criticizing Islam, radical feminists, or the Black Lives Matter movement. They are the first to totally miss the point of free-expression.

Millennials Are Rejecting The Authoritarian Leftism 


This could also account, in part, for Donald Trump’s presidential victory in November 2016. College aged students, indoctrinated directly by radicalized Generation X (born 1960-1979) professors took votes away from Hillary Clinton in favor of Trump and Bernie Sanders. The rise in populists movements and the rapid disintegration of globalism, socialism and Obama-ism had much to do with Clinton’s failure. More Millennials rejected the authoritarian leftism of Gen X and some Baby Boomers.

A team led by psychologist Michael Dodd and political scientist John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, found that when viewing a collage of photographs, conservatives’ eyes unconsciously lingered 15 percent longer on repellent images, such as car wrecks and excrement. This suggested that conservatives are more attuned than liberals to assessing potential threats.

Psychologists have found that conservatives are fundamentally more anxious than liberals, which may be why they typically desire stability, structure and clear answers even to complicated questions.

“(Liberals) are the first to totally miss the point of free-expression.” 

“Conservatism, apparently, helps to protect people against some of the natural difficulties of living,” says social psychologist Paul Nail of the University of Central Arkansas. “The fact is we don’t live in a completely safe world. Things can and do go wrong.”

When people feel safe and secure, they become more liberal; when they feel threatened, they become more conservative. Research conducted by Nail and his colleague in the weeks after September 11, 2001, showed that people of all political persuasions became more conservative in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

Opposing Sides Can Try to Cultivate Mutual Respect 

On topics where liberals and conservatives will never see eye to eye, opposing sides can try to cultivate mutual respect. In The Righteous Mind, Haidt identifies several areas of morality.

  1. Liberals, he says, tend to value two of them:
    • caring for people who are vulnerable.
    •  fairness, which for liberals tends to mean sharing resources equally.
  2. Conservatives care about those things, too, but for them fairness means proportionality:
    1. people should get what they deserve based on the amount of effort they have put in.
    2. they put emphasis on loyalty and authority, values helpful for maintaining a stable society.

Chart attempting to show differences between the Left and Right (Pinterest)

In a 2009 study, Haidt and two of his colleagues presented more than 8,000 people with a series of hypothetical actions. Among them: kick a dog in the head; discard a box of ballots to help your candidate win; publicly bet against a favorite sports team; curse your parents to their faces; and receive a blood transfusion from a child molester. Participants had to say whether they would do these deeds for money and, if so, for how much—$10? $1,000? $100,000? More?

  1. Liberals were reluctant to harm a living thing or act unfairly, even for $1 million, but they were willing to betray group loyalty, disrespect authority or do something disgusting, such as eating their own dog after it dies, for cash.
  2. Conservatives said they were less willing to compromise on any of the moral categories.

Haidt has a message for both sides.

  1. He wants the left to acknowledge that the right’s emphasis on laws, institutions, customs and religion is valuable. Conservatives recognize that democracy is a huge achievement and that maintaining the social order requires imposing constraints on people.
  2. Liberal values, on the other hand, also serve important roles: ensuring that the rights of weaker members of society are respected; limiting the harmful effects, such as pollution, that corporations sometimes pass on to others; and fostering innovation by supporting diverse ideas and ways of life.

Haidt now finds value in conservative tenets that he used to reject reflexively: “It’s yin and yang. Both sides see different threats; both sides are wise to different virtues.”


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1 Comment on "How liberals and conservatives see each other may surprise you"

  1. Jerry Dudley | May 15, 2017 at 2:51 pm | Reply

    Pretty much spot on from my FB experiences defending conservative thoughts. One aspect weak in this article is the foundation to some of these rights the left thinks are their emminent
    (Sp) domain when those rights are not. Rights no matter the author or giver are earned individually, and after earning may be shared, and therein lies my right to say no as we do not live in a democracy but rather a republic”that protects the rights of the individual. In other words no I do not support equal healthcare, unending government usurpation of my taxed earnings, supporting endless welfare through government rather than organized charity through local churches!

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