Liberals often consider themselves less prejudiced than conservatives, especially compared to those pesky religious fundamentalists! But a great deal of social science research should disabuse them of that notion, if recent events at the University of California-Berkley didn’t already.
In a stellar Politico article, Matthew Hutson summarized multiple reports suggesting that conservatives, liberals, religious fundamentalists, and anti-religious people all have prejudices against those with opposing vies. “Surprisingly, each group is about equally prejudiced,” Hutson wrote.
When it comes to open-mindedness, many years of research have shown that social conservatives and religious fundamentalists often possess psychological traits that predispose them toward prejudice, such as valuing conformity and the desire for certainty. Liberals and the nonreligious tend to be more open to new experiences, and many have associated thais trait with lower intolerance.
This is the scientific basis for the mistaken idea among liberals that they don’t just have the right opinions — they’re also less prejudiced toward those who disagree. But as Hutson pointed out, that isn’t true at all.
“Not only are conservatives unfairly maligned as more prejudiced than liberals, but religious fundamentalists are to some degree unfairly maligned as more prejudiced than atheists,” Hutson wrote, citing a paper by Mark Brandt and Daryl Van Tongeren published in January’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Brandt and Van Tongeren did find that highly religious people were cold and even dehumanizing to those they saw as irreligious — atheists, homosexuals, liberals, and feminists. But the irreligious were similarly prejudiced against the religious.
Filip Uzarevic, from the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, reported data showing that Christians were more biased against Chinese people, Muslims, and Buddhists than were atheists and agnostics, but atheists and agnostics were more biased against Catholics, supporters of traditional marriage, and openly religious people. Interestingly, atheists and agnostics were less open to alternative opinions.
In a study last year in Social Psychological and Personality Science, Brandt reported that low levels of intelligence, long considered a predictor of intolerance, only biases people against certain groups. People who scored poorly on a vocabulary test were more likely to be biased against Hispanics, Asian Americans, atheists, homosexuals, blacks, Muslims, illegal immigrants, liberals, whites, those on welfare, and feminists.
Those who performed more highly on the test, by contrast, tended to be biased against Christians, big business, the Tea Party, the military, conservatives, Catholics, working-class people, the rich, and the middle class.
But demographics and traditionalism explained these differences better than intelligence, and each group showed similar levels of prejudice.
Why are people prejudiced against those who disagree with them? Another study by Brandt suggested an answer — it all comes down to politics. In a study yet to be published in Psychological Science, the psychologist discovered that “knowing only a target group’s perceived political orientation, you can predict fairly accurately whether liberals or conservatives will express more prejudice toward them, and how much.”
When conservatives and liberals were questioned about their attitudes toward 42 different groups, ranging from homosexuals, transgender people, feminists, atheists, and goths to Christians, rich people, the Tea Party, big business, Mormons, police, whites, and upper-class people, the results broke down as any political observer might predict — liberals disliked groups they considered conservative while conservatives disliked groups they considered liberal.
“Social status (is the group respected by society?) and choice of group membership (were they born that way?) mattered little,” in this study, Hutson noted. “It appears that conflicting political values really are what drive liberal and conservative prejudice toward these groups.”
A further study by Brandt and colleagues discovered that people were especially biased against those who held opposing social ideologies — even more than those holding different economic or political ideas. Abortion, gay marriage, and religious education are more visceral issues than tax reform.
Aristotle wrote that human beings are political animals, and social science has confirmed that people tend to like those who are similar to themselves. A 2011 study even found that humans prefer members in their own group, even if the group is defined solely by randomly assigned shirt color.
Liberals often think that their particular ideology — championing the “oppressed,” using government to help the less fortunate, and being more open to new forms of social organization — makes them less susceptible to prejudice. But Brandt declared that “the openness-related traits of liberals are not some sort of prejudice antidote.”
Indeed, “open-mindedness” is merely yet another trait that inspires social inclusion and exclusion, Brandt and his colleagues reported in a 2015 study. Being open to new experiences made people less likely to be prejudiced against 16 social groups, but it actually increased prejudice against groups the subjects considered “closed-minded.”
“Open-minded people felt colder than closed-minded people toward ‘conventional’ groups such as evangelical Christians, Republicans and supporters of the traditional family,” Hutson explained. “And unsurprisingly, closed-minded people were more biased than open-minded people against ‘unconventional’ groups such as atheists, Democrats, poor people, and gays and lesbians.”
Even education, long considered an integrative panacea, does not reduce prejudice. It merely encourages people to cover it up, according to a study conducted by Maxine Najle, a University of Kentucky researcher.
Najle reported that when she directly asked people if they would consider voting for a presidential candidate who was atheist, black, Catholic, gay, Muslim, or a woman, those with an education beyond high school were more likely to say “yes.” But when asked indirectly and in a way they could answer anonymously, people with higher education levels showed no difference in prejudice than those without it.
“Higher education seems to instill an understanding of the appropriate levels of intolerance to express, not necessarily higher tolerance,” Najle said.
The culture of political correctness is indeed real, and the higher one’s education, the less free a person feels to express unpopular views.
Interestingly, liberals are so convinced of their ideas and their moral superiority that they are unwilling to recognize prejudice against Christians, men, whites, and the police as prejudice. “We’ve understandably received a variety of pushback when we suggest that prejudice towards Christians and conservatives is prejudice,” Brandt said. Tellingly, Hutson added, “to many, it’s just standing up to bullies.”
But the assumption that conservative groups are automatically bullies doesn’t just reveal the Left’s herd mentality. It should also challenge conservatives not to fall into the same trap. Liberals in recent years — and especially recent months — have indeed bullied conservatives, but it is just as unfair to assume any given liberal is a bully as it is for liberals to assume the same for a conservative.
Hutson, to his credit, quoted moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt in noting that conservatives view liberals as entrenched in the echelons of power. “The left has won the culture war and controls the media, the universities, Hollywood and the education of everyone’s children,” Haidt explained. Conservatives “think that they are the victims, they are fighting back against powerful and oppressive forces.”
The Politico writer did fit in a few jabs toward the end, however. He suggested that climate change skeptics are less rational and more beholden to corporations like Exxon-Mobil than their climate alarmist opponents.
Such preaching, unmixed by any recognition that Senate Democrats and state attorneys general launched witch hunts (and some actually threatened to use RICO laws) against those who dared to disagree on climate change, merely cemented Hutson as a liberal willing to overlook active intolerance against free speech.
Perhaps the man should read his own article — or perhaps he wanted to just prove himself right.