Value violations may hold the key to why conservatives and liberals support discrimination against certain groups, according to research published in the November issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Studies have consistently shown that conservatives tend to embrace discrimination in various forms, leading some “scholars to conclude that conservative ideology is based on ethnocentrism, intolerance, and opposition to equality,” lead author Geoffrey A. Wetherell, a PhD student in Psychology at DePaul University, and his colleagues explained in their study.
The researchers, however, rejected this “oversimplification.” Their study found that both liberals and conservatives supported discrimination against groups that violated their respective values. But liberals tended to endorse values that attenuated discrimination, while conservatives tended to endorse values that upheld discrimination.
“Discrimination by liberals has received scant attention in the literature, despite this being a prevalent concern in conservative rhetoric. By only examining conservative biases, social scientists fail to fully explore political intolerance in America. This research helps fill that gap,” Wetherell and his colleagues wrote.
In an experiment involving 210 university students, liberals and conservatives were equally supportive of discrimination against groups at odds with their respective ideology.
The researchers examined the participants’ political beliefs and values. They also measured the participants willingness to deny basic rights and support vandalism against a variety of political groups.
When opposing groups were seen as violating core values, liberals were just as likely to support discrimination against same-sex marriage opponents, religious fundamentalists, Tea Party protestors, and prolife people as were conservatives against feminists, atheists, leftist protestors, and prochoice people.
Unsurprisingly, both liberals and conservatives opposed discrimination against their own ideological groups.
A second experiment involving 126 adults confirmed the findings.
Both liberals and conservatives support discrimination against their ideological foes, but some conservatives may be more likely to support discrimination due the values commonly associated with conservatism.
The researchers found abstract values had indirect effects on the support for discrimination. Among conservatives, those who valued traditionalism were more likely to support discrimination, while the opposite was true of self-reliance. On the other hand, two values associated with liberalism — egalitarianism and universalism — were found to reduce support for discrimination.
“Although both liberals and conservatives are willing to support discrimination against ideologically divergent groups, the values that the former prioritize may play very different roles in legitimizing that discrimination,” Wetherell and his colleagues concluded. “Conservative values of traditionalism may augment motives to discriminate, while liberal values of equality and tolerance and the conservative value of hard work may attenuate discrimination.”