Understanding Liberals and Conservatives

I’ve had my own thoughts about the differences between liberals and conservatives for a few years; and have blogged about it occasionally. It has seemed to me, as I read and listen to debates on various issues, that liberals and conservatives do not speak the same language; they may use many of the same words, but the concepts are not the same. As a result, the dialog is often meaningless. There is no attempt whatsoever to really try to understand the motivation behind the opinions or to understand the different meanings that each attaches to the words they are using.

I was therefore intrigued by the article on MSNBC last week entitled 5 key ‘moral triggers’ polarize politics. In it, Rachael Rettner reports on a study by Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia which have identified 5 “moral triggers”—factors that people use to judge right from wrong—that are common, but not universally shared between cultures or individuals within cultures. These are identified as:

  • Harm/care
  • Fairness/reciprocity
  • Ingroup/loyalty
  • Authority/respect
  • Purity/sanctity

What is interesting is that (as least by American terminology) conservatives tend to be concerned with all five factors, while liberals focus only on harm/care.  This difference explains a lot, including the difference between liberal and conservative views of the Constitution and what type of Supreme Court judges we need. And, as the article points out, this really explains the different points of view on gay marriage.

Peter Ditto, professor at UCI, talked about how people will interpret facts differently, and even ignore facts that don’t fit their moral view; views of right and wrong by both conservatives and liberals are actually based on “altered realities.”  He is quoted as saying

“People process information, and it’s biased to supporting their moral ideological view,” he said. “And what you end up with is these sort of radically different perceptions of fact, so that it’s not like they’re just arguing about morals anymore; they perceive the world completely differently.”

I have recently read a number of different sources from different fields of study making similar points—people don’t think completely rationally. All of us—even those trained to be objective—will see data that fits our already-held beliefs.

However, the article itself kind of deteriorates as it continues on, trying to find reasons why the left-right split seems more severe than in the past; Ditto believes that the media exacerbates the split by reinforcing the more extremist positions, which seemed more of a guess then the result of any serious study (I did agree, however, with his categorizing NPR as “liberal” media along with MSNBC). This may be true for some; however, I’ve read and watched MSNBC more than any other news source for the last dozen or so years, and I’m still a conservative.

Regardless, the 5 moral triggers that Haidt & Co. have classified are intriguing, and do seem to explain some things.

Polls, Phonies and Politics

Self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals in all 50 states of the union, according to the Gallup Poll.   At the same time, more Americans nationwide are saying this year that they are conservative than have made that claim in any of the last four years.

In 2009, 40% percent of respondents in Gallup surveys that have interviewed more than 160,000 Americans have said that they are either “conservative” (31%) or “very conservative” (9%). That is the highest percentage in any year since 2004.  Only 21% have told Gallup they are liberal, including 16% who say they are “liberal” and 5% who say they are “very liberal.” – from CNSNews

Interesting.  Liberals (the 21%), of course, would have us believe that they are mainstream and that conservatives should be marginalized.  This, of course, smacks of facism (I have been laughed at by liberals at this, but that’s only because it’s true).

My thoughts on the change in poll numbers is that it is a reaction to the current version of liberal extremism running rampant in Washington D.C.  People are beginning to see the logical result of liberalism and realize that they want nothing to do with it.  Note the poll says nothing about party affiliation, just whether people see themselves as liberal, moderate or conservative.

Global Warming

Along similar lines, the Pew Research Center has conducted a poll indicating that

There has been a sharp decline over the past year in the percentage of Americans who say there is solid evidence that global temperatures are rising. And fewer also see global warming as a very serious problem – 35% say that today, down from 44% in April 2008.

Interesting, isn’t it?  Why would this be so, when we’ve been told again and again that anthropogenic global warming is killing us all?  We are inundated with “facts” and figures about melting glaciers, etc., etc.  Just think of all the doom and gloom rhetoric from Obama and Co.   Why are people believing it less?  If you listen to Rahm Emanuel, he’ll tell you it’s because of Rush Limbaugh or Fox News, who are spreading lie after lie.  But, I doubt either can boast of a 40% market share.  The majority of people still get their news from the rest of the media (which aren’t being picked on because they are carrying out their information disseminating services quite well).

No, I suspect it’s because more and more people are realizing that the facts aren’t adding up.  Global Warming is cooling, there are data gaps and conflicts everywhere, and the Administration is running around yelling, “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”   Don’t get me wrong, I am concerned about the environment and saving energy.  I like renewable, green energy.  I like clean air (one of the reasons I left SoCal) and potable water.  I just think the AGW scare is an attempt to create fear, so those in control can grab even more power.  But, people aren’t buying it.


The whole Afghanistan thing is quite revealing.  We’ve heard O. and Co. laying blame on the prior administration, claiming that with Afghanistan, they were left with nothing, and literally had to start at square one.  In reality, there was an unprecedented amount of cooperation by the Bush team, who provided more assistance, information and advice than any prior administration.  Furthermore, they provided specific analysis of the situation in Afghanistan, but as we’ve now heard from Dick Cheney, Obama requested that they not tell anyone!  Why would they make such a request?  The only reason I can think of is so they could take credit for the plan themselves (which they did back in March).

Yesterday, of course, the White House responded with all kinds of nonsense.  The truth is, Obama is “dithering.”  He either doesn’t know what to do or he doesn’t have the guts to do what he knows he should do.  Certainly he shouldn’t act rashly… but yes, he’s dithering.  He ran off to claim the Olympics, he plans to sign away our national sovereignty in Copenhagen, and he’s obsessed with his healthcare plan (which, by the way, isn’t his, either). Personally, I think Obama is a phony.  He doesn’t have what it takes to be President or Commander in Chief.  I realize it’s a tough job – I certainly couldn’t do it, and wouldn’t want to.  But, he claimed he had what it took to do the job, and he fooled enough people to vote for him.  Now, we’re reaping the results.


It’s time that Obama – the chief servant of the people (not the dictator) – starts listening to the people.  Less than 1/4 of Americans are liberal.  Most people don’t like his healthcare ideas. They don’t like his approach to economics, and they don’t like his foreign policy.  They don’t want him signing the Copenhagen treaty.  Wake up, Mr. Obama.

He must know by now that chances are, he’s losing his majority on the hill.  And, he’s got to realize that he’s as good as gone in 2012 (well, I hear we all might be, but that’s another matter).

So what does he think he’s doing?

I don’t think he knows.