Our podcast “The Truth Is Out There…Isn’t It?” showed that even very smart people can fool themselves into confirming their own beliefs, especially when surrounded by peers with the same beliefs. PSMag.com reports on new research that shows young Americans self-identify as more conservative than they actually are:
“Commentators have presumed that America is a ‘center-right’ nation,” write psychologists Ethan Zell of the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and Michael Bernstein of Pennsylvania State University-Abington. “The present findings challenge this assumption.”
Their three surveys featured, respectively, 199 students at a Southeastern university, 360 adults recruited on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (with a mean age of 28), and 154 students from two universities. The final group was weighted so that there were an equal number of people in each of seven political categories, ranging from very liberal to very conservative.
In each case, participants revealed how they define themselves politically on that seven-point scale. They then completed a quiz developed by the Pew Research Center for the PBS Newshour, in which they indicated their views on 12 major issues, including welfare and gay marriage.
Results were consistent across the board: Participants rated themselves as more conservative than their positions on the issues would indicate.
The researchers concluded that, even though there’s some confusion over what liberals and conservatives stand for, those in their study still preferred labeling themselves as conservative:
In addition, they found many hard-core conservatives mistakenly label liberal positions as conservative—“a mismatch associated with religiosity, low political interest, and low political knowledge.”
This suggests a whole lot of Americans don’t really understand what liberals or conservatives truly stand for, but prefer the label conservative. They may respond positively to the philosophy in the abstract, or simply wish to blend in with what they perceive as the majority culture.