why rural and working-class americans vote republican : a moral foundations approach. notes from The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

We’ve made many improvements since our first simple survey in 2006, but we always find the same basic pattern. The lines for Care and Fairness slant downward; the lines for Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity, slant upward. Liberals value Care and Fairness far more than the other three foundations; conservatives endorse all five foundations more or less equally. We’ve found this basic difference no matter how we ask the questions.

Moral psychology can help explain why the Democratic Party has had so much difficulty connecting with voters since 1980. Democrats tend to build upon just two foundations, whereas Republicans build upon all five.

Figure 8.2 – Scores on the Moral Foundations Questionnaire, from 132,000 subjects – data from YourMorals.org

My colleagues and I revised Moral Foundations Theory to do a better job of explaining intuitions about liberty and fairness:

  • we added the Liberty/Oppression Foundation, which makes people notice and resent any sign of attempted domination. It triggers an urge to band together to resist or overthrow bullies and tyrants. This Foundation supports the egalitarianism and anti-authoritarianism of the left, as well as the don’t tread-on-me and give-me-liberty anti-government anger of libertarians and conservatives.

  • we modified the Fairness Foundation to make it focus more strongly on proportionality. The Fairness Foundation begins with the psychology of reciprocal altruism, but its duties expanded once humans created gossiping and punitive moral communities. Most people have a deep intuitive concern for the law of karma – they want to see cheaters punished, and good citizens rewarded in proportion to their deeds.

With these revisions, Moral Foundation Theory can now explain one of the great puzzles that has preoccupied Democrats in recent years: why do rural and working-class Americans generally vote Republican, when it is the Democratic party that wants to redistribute money more evenly?

Democrats often say that Republicans have duped these people into voting against their economic self-interest. But from the perspective of Moral Foundations Theory, rural and working-class voters were in fact voting for their moral interests. They don’t want to eat at the True Taste Restaurant, and they don’t want their nation to devote itself primarily to the care of victims and the pursuit of social justice. Until Democrats understand the Durkheimian vision of society, and the difference between a six-foundation morality and a three-foundation morality, they will not understand what makes people vote Republican.


from Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

see also: politics, economics, and moral psychology

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