Political left, right both inspired by utopian hopes: study

December 5, 2016 by Brian Flood
Despite the ideological differences separating liberals and conservatives, they share similar motivations for their political engagement, according to a new study from a University of Illinois at Chicago social psychologist. Credit: University of Illinois at Chicago

Despite the ideological differences separating liberals and conservatives, they share similar motivations for their political engagement, according to a new study from a University of Illinois at Chicago social psychologist.

The study, published online by Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, suggests that people on the political left and right are both morally motivated more by promoting their hopes and vision of a preferred than by their fears of non-preferred policies or to prevent harm.

To test how and why people become more politically engaged when they have moral investment in an issue, the researchers conducted two studies involving separate politicized matters—same-sex marriage and guns on college campuses.

"We found that people who more strongly felt that legalizing same-sex marriage or laws allowing concealed guns on college campuses were moral issues—regardless of whether they supported or opposed these positions - were more willing to engage in activism behaviors such as voting, donating money, and volunteering," said Linda Skitka, UIC professor of psychology and lead author.

"What explained this connection between people's moral convictions and political engagement was the perceived benefits of achieving preferred policy outcomes, not the perceived harms of non-preferred policy outcomes."

The finding that moral political engagement is driven by people's hopes for a utopian future, rather than their fears about a dystopian future, contradicts earlier research.

"Other studies have shown that are usually more loss-averse than they are gain-seeking," Skitka said. "Although liberals' and conservatives' ideas about what a utopian or dystopian future might look like are different, they are nonetheless motivated more by the benefits they associate with their preferred future than the harms they associate with their non-preferred future."

The researchers say the findings could have implications for communication strategies by organizations, politicians and political parties to encourage .

"People may be more likely to vote, volunteer, etc., when they believe that doing so will accomplish something good rather than only prevent something bad," she said.

Explore further: Republicans and democrats less divided than commonly thought

Related Stories

Republicans and democrats less divided than commonly thought

January 28, 2012

Republicans and Democrats are less divided in their attitudes than popularly believed, according to new research. It is exactly those perceptions of polarization, however, that help drive political engagement, researchers ...

Moral values influence level of climate change action

November 16, 2016

Two moral values highly rated by liberals—compassion and fairness—influence willingness to make personal choices to mitigate climate change's impact in the future, according to a new multidisciplinary study by Cornell ...

Recommended for you

Humans in America '115,000 years earlier than thought'

April 26, 2017

High-tech dating of mastodon remains found in southern California has shattered the timeline of human migration to America, pushing the presence of hominins back to 130,000 years ago rather than just 15,000 years, researchers ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.