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Motivated Reasoning and Tribal Loyalty in Politics

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2019

For years, researchers have identified a link between a person’s “moral foundations” and their political views. In a piece for The Atlantic, Olga Khazan summarized it like so:

According to the researchers who invented the quiz, the issues that most concern political liberals tend to fall under the category of “individualizing” moral foundations, which have more to do with personal standards: care versus harm and fairness versus cheating. Political conservatives, meanwhile, tend to be more concerned about group-focused “binding” foundations: loyalty versus betrayal, authority versus subversion, and disgust versus purity. If loyalty is extremely important to you, the research suggests, you might care deeply about supporting the troops, and therefore you might be more likely to be politically conservative.

She then goes on to describe the results of a new study that suggest that maybe our morals are determined by our political affiliation and not the other way around.

In a series of analyses published recently in the American Journal of Political Science, the three researchers found that people’s moral codes don’t cause or predict their political ideology; instead, people’s ideology appears to predict their answers on the moral-foundations questionnaire. As Peter Hatemi, one of the study’s authors and a political-science professor at Pennsylvania State University, puts it: “We will switch our moral compass depending on how it fits with what we believe politically.”

This could explain how the Republicans’ opinion of Russia changed so quickly in the wake of allegations that Donald Trump colluded in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, the Republican flip-flop on climate change, the evangelical Christian embrace of the most immoral President in recent history, and the leftward swing of many Democratic Party members, following their most visible politicians (Bernie, Warren, AOC) & most vocal supporters away from Obama’s centrism.