Every election season, commentators trot out the old statistics about how more education makes people more likely to support Democrats, more studies are published on how liberal Daily Show viewers are so well-informed, and various smart people try to explain why anyone would ever vote for a Republican, against their "self-interest." This month has seen three alarming and remarkable scientific investigations into Americans' inexplicable habit of voting for George Bush and John McCain. Which means: trend! Hooray! Let's take a look at what America's top scienticians say about fucking idiot flyover losers and their stupid voting: Conservatives Are Scared A Lot Rice University Political Scientist John Alford published some research in the creatively named journal Science about a possible biological basis to liberalism and conservatism. Basically, "46 mostly white Midwesterners who self-identified as having strong political beliefs" were shown "threatening images" ("a large spider on someone's face, a bloodied person and maggot-filled wound"). The conservatives were more scared, of all of the images. Or, as Newsweek puts it, "illegal immigrants may = spiders = gay marriages = maggot-filled wounds = abortion rights = bloodied faces. " Liberals were not sensitive to the scary images. Which means they're biologically inferior, because they'd die if a gay spider tried to abort their faces to death. Notable problems with this study: small sample, also wtf this doesn't explain anything. Conservatives Refuse to Believe "Facts" The most upsetting and alarming research? Probably Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler's backfire effect study. In that, the political scientists took two groups of volunteers and gave them the Bush administration's prewar claims that Iraq was a threat and had weapons of mass destruction.
One group was given a refutation — the comprehensive 2004 Duelfer report that concluded that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction before the United States invaded in 2003. Thirty-four percent of conservatives told only about the Bush administration's claims thought Iraq had hidden or destroyed its weapons before the U.S. invasion, but 64 percent of conservatives who heard both claim and refutation thought that Iraq really did have the weapons. The refutation, in other words, made the misinformation worse.
This "backfire" effect only worked on conservatives. Even when they varied the source of the refutations, it made no difference—corrections from the New York Times and Fox News both caused conservatives to believe the lies even harder. In other words, objective truth is dead, observable reality is a fairy tale, etc. Conservatives Have An Entirely Different Moral Code This should bring you down, a little bit. Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist, wrote a lengthy anthropological investigation into why people vote for Republicans. It's not the Thomas Frank "they are distracted by bullshit" explanation, though it is related: they have different cultural standards of ethics and morality! Liberals and college students define morality as "how we treat each other," conservatives attach more significance to "supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way." Liberals recognize fairness and care as important moral virtues, conservatives add to that loyalty, respect for authority, and duty. The educated moral relativism worldview is fundamentally incompatible with the way like 50% of America thinks, and stereotypes about out-of-touch elitist coastal democrats are basically correct. Sigh. So What Have We Learned? Conservatives respond instinctually, not rationally, to scary images, "facts," and institutions. Whether this is innate and biological or cultural seems still up in the air. Democrats can't with with logical arguments or even appeals to the innate rightness of concepts like "diversity" and "tolerance," because those aren't considered essentially good and important by the voters they're trying to appeal to. This does suggest that an appeal to old New Deal institutional concepts like the Welfare State might actually be effective, if they're wrapped in the flag and a sense of duty. Also scientists still consider the majority of Americans to be like a fascinating exotic backwards tribe and the fucking country is doomed.