Sunday, 7 January 2018

The optimal election strategy for conservative parties

A 2012 paper by Scott Eidelman (University of Arkansas) and co-authors, published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (ungated version here), demonstrates that low-effort thought is associated with political conservatism. Specifically, the paper describes four studies the authors undertook, but it was the first study that most caught my attention:
Study 1 was conducted in vivo at a local bar, with alcohol intoxication serving as a hindrance to effortful thinking; political attitudes of bar patrons were correlated with a measure of their blood alcohol content (BAC)...
To determine whether BAC was related to political conservatism, we regressed the 10-item conservatism index on participants’ self-identification as liberal/conservative, sex (0 = male; 1 = female), level of education, and BAC. Consistent with predictions, BAC was a significant predictor of political conservatism,... over and above ideological self-identification, sex, and education. 
In other words, people who were more intoxicated were more likely to agree with conservative statements than people who were less intoxicated, even after controlling for their self-identified affiliation as conservative or liberal. Of course, the authors note the main problem with this study:
Our data are correlational, and the possibility of reverse causality remains—political conservatives may drink more alcohol.
They measured how intoxicated people were when they left the bar, and their agreement with the political statements at that time. They note reverse causality - that conservatives may drink more. However, it is equally plausible that some other variable (social background or upbringing) affects both drinking behaviour and political views.

The other studies in the paper are interesting too. The second study distracted half of the participants while they completed a survey, and the distracted participants were more likely to agree with conservative statements (and no less likely to agree with liberal statements). The third study placed half of the participants under greater time pressure, and those that were under more time pressure were more likely to agree with conservative statements (and no less likely to agree with liberal statements). Finally, the fourth study asked half of participants to put a lot of thought into their answers, and the other half not to think too hard about each question. That final study found that those who didn't think too hard were more likely to agree with conservative statements (and no less likely to agree with liberal statements).

So, what do we learn from this study? If you want more people to agree with conservative statements, get them drunk, distract them, put them under time pressure, and tell them not to think too hard. It shouldn't be too difficult to create a winning conservative election strategy from that, right?

[HT: Rolf Degen, via Marginal Revolution]

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