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Why Do Working-Class People Vote Conservative?

June 8, 2012

I post a portion of a very well-written column….but think the whole article should be read.  This is a most thoughtful and enlightening read that is well worth your time.

Here’s a more painful but ultimately constructive diagnosis, from the point of view of moral psychology: politics at the national level is more like religion than it is like shopping. It’s more about a moral vision that unifies a nation and calls it to greatness than it is about self-interest or specific policies. In most countries, the right tends to see that more clearly than the left. In America the Republicans did the hard work of drafting their moral vision in the 1970s, and Ronald Reagan was their eloquent spokesman. Patriotism, social order, strong families, personal responsibility (not government safety nets) and free enterprise. Those are values, not government programs.

The Democrats, in contrast, have tried to win voters’ hearts by promising to protect or expand programmes for elderly people, young people, students, poor people and the middle class. Vote for us and we’ll use government to take care of everyone! But most Americans don’t want to live in a nation based primarily on caring. That’s what families are for.

One reason the left has such difficulty forging a lasting connection with voters is that the right has a built-in advantage – conservatives have a broader moral palate than the liberals (as we call leftists in the US). Think about it this way: our tongues have taste buds that are responsive to five classes of chemicals, which we perceive as sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savoury. Sweetness is generally the most appealing of the five tastes, but when it comes to a serious meal, most people want more than that.

In the same way, you can think of the moral mind as being like a tongue that is sensitive to a variety of moral flavors. In my research with colleagues, we have identified six moral concerns as the best candidates for being the innate “taste buds” of the moral sense: care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. Across many kinds of surveys, in the UK as well as in the USA, we find that people who self-identify as being on the left score higher on questions about care/harm. For example, how much would someone have to pay you to kick a dog in the head? Nobody wants to do this, but liberals say they would require more money than conservatives to cause harm to an innocent creature.

  1. Patrick permalink
    June 9, 2012 10:02 AM

    By the way, the author also has some fantastic videos on TED. Anyone who likes the article should check out the videos.

  2. Patrick permalink
    June 8, 2012 5:42 PM


    You seem to miss the whole point of the article. The article does state that liberals score highly on the care/harm value, but there are other significant values. I would argue that no one moral value is in itself sufficient. To merely care–without, say, valuing individualism–is not enough. One value set informes and makes the others stronger and more balanced. To suggest that the right doesn’t care about anyone but themselves is such a silly and emotional statement, like saying the younger generation is selfish, lazy and (to be repetitive) self centered. I work with the younger generation every day and very many of them are of superior moral quality. As for your last point…Who is “we?”

  3. June 8, 2012 12:34 PM

    yes the right has a bigger advantage because they have all the money from the backers that want to control this whole country. what the left is forgetting is it is us who care about them and the rich only care about them selves. so they want all the money to benefit them selves. and by the way we working people have paid into social security and medicare all our working life. the younger generation will not take care of family in time of need. they are very selfish lazy and self centered. they believe that what is thiers is theirs and what the parents have is theirs as well and they will not take care of a family like in the older days where they had love and respect for the elderly. the gop has shown them a new way the paul ryan way. let them die when they run out of the one time pay 2000.00 we give them for healthcare

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