Many of us from the left unblinkingly characterize working class and rural Republicans as narrow-minded dupes tricked into voting against their own economic interests. When we do, however, we tend to dismiss the near primal allure of the broader moral sensitivities inherent to the conservative foundation of their party.
A Student News Daily article offers a concise delineation of Conservative vs. Liberal Beliefs:
Liberals believe in government action to achieve equal opportunity and equality for all. It is the duty of the government to alleviate social ills and to protect civil liberties and individual and human rights. Believe the role of the government should be to guarantee that no one is in need. Liberal policies generally emphasize the need for the government to solve problems.
Conservatives believe in personal responsibility, limited government, free markets, individual liberty, traditional American values and a strong national defense. Believe the role of government should be to provide people the freedom necessary to pursue their own goals. Conservative policies generally emphasize empowerment of the individual to solve problems.
That’s pretty much a textbook comparison of the opposite ends of our political spectrum, offered primarily as a frame of reference. But social psychologist Jonathan Haidt offers a much more compelling clinical analysis in his article, What Makes People Vote Republican?:
What makes people vote Republican? Why in particular do working class and rural Americans usually vote for pro-business Republicans when their economic interests would seem better served by Democratic policies? We psychologists have been examining the origins of ideology ever since Hitler sent us Germany’s best psychologists, and we long ago reported that strict parenting and a variety of personal insecurities work together to turn people against liberalism, diversity, and progress. But now that we can map the brains, genes, and unconscious attitudes of conservatives, we have refined our diagnosis: conservatism is a partially heritable personality trait that predisposes some people to be cognitively inflexible, fond of hierarchy, and inordinately afraid of uncertainty, change, and death. People vote Republican because Republicans offer “moral clarity”—a simple vision of good and evil that activates deep seated fears in much of the electorate. Democrats, in contrast, appeal to reason with their long-winded explorations of policy options for a complex world.
Indeed, this excerpt makes very short shrift of Haidt’s article, but I hope it whets your interest enough to take the time to read it through. Along with the replies. From my own perspective, I found it very enlightening in the sense that I now appreciate the moral and social underpinnings of such behavior. Nevertheless, I still find it vexing that a whole cottage industry of rightist punditry sprang up and continues to thrive for the sole purpose of exploiting the fears of their loyalists.