How Liberal and Conservative Delusions Differ


Any part of a character's make up is an understanding or description of their political stands.  This research demonstrates how a delusion common to liberals differs from moderates and conservatives according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
  • Liberals tend to underestimate the amount of actual agreement among those who share their ideology, while
  • conservatives tend to overestimate intra-group agreement.
 These findings may help to explain differences in how political groups and movements, like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, gain traction on the national stage.  According to psychological scientist Chadly Stern of New York University,
  • "The Tea Party movement developed a succinct set of goals in its incipient stages and effectively mobilized its members toward large-scale social change quite quickly."  
  • "In contrast, despite its popularity, the liberal Occupy Wall Street movement struggled to reach agreement on their collective mission and ultimately failed to enact large-scale social change."
Stern, with co-authors Tessa West and Peter Schmitt, recruited almost 300 hundred participants to complete an online survey. The participants read political statements (e.g., "In general, I support labor unions,") and non-political statements (e.g., "I enjoy coffee") and were asked to indicate whether they agreed or disagreed with each statement. They were also asked to indicate how much others of the same political persuasion would support their own attitudes -- a measure of perceived in-group consensus.

Truly False Uniqueness v. Truly False Consensus
  • Liberals show what the researchers call "truly false uniqueness," perceiving their beliefs as more divergent from the beliefs of other liberals than they actually are.
  • Moderates and conservatives, on the other hand, show evidence of "truly false consensus," perceiving their beliefs to be more similar to those of other members of their political group than they actually are.
Data from a second study suggest that the relationship is driven by participants' desire to feel unique: Liberals report a stronger desire for uniqueness than did moderates or conservatives.

Surprisingly, these trends even emerged among nonpolitical judgments, such as preference for coffee: Liberals believe their preferences are more different from those of other liberals than they actually are, while conservatives believed their preferences were more similar to those of other conservatives than they actually are.

Given that perceptions of in-group consensus can be an important motivator for social change, these new findings may help to explain why liberal and conservative movements develop different political trajectories:
  • "Liberal social movements might struggle to develop solidarity and formulate shared goals within their ranks, both because liberals want to maintain unique beliefs and because they underestimate the amount of agreement among their members," Stern explains.
  • "Conservative social movements might initially capitalize on perceiving agreement to galvanize their ranks, but their inaccurate perceptions could impair group progress when actual agreement is necessary."
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As a personal observation, this result explains the current gridlock within the Republic Party between Tea Party Republicans and more traditional party loyalists.  Based on comments in the press, it appears members of both conservative groups are surprised if not a little shocked when they discovered that the other doesn't agree with their positions.
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