Understanding the Ideological Divide Between Liberals and Conservatives: Is it Possible for Us to Get Along?
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CM: I think that if you look at the Obama administration you see that essentially the right and the Tea Party decided that they were going to make him the enemy and they were going to block everything the president did with no compromise. They worked together in a concerted way to do this. I think it's that simple. I think you also see it in the idea that this is a Christian nation and that in some parts of the Christian right that Islam is a dangerous force. Whenever you get tribal affiliations by religion then it's you're with me or you're against me, and the team becomes the faith. I think you see a lot of that on the Christian right too.
JH: One of the more interesting findings of the book is that while conservatives and liberals both are capable of this motivated reasoning, ignoring information that conflicts with their worldviews or accepting dubious information that confirms them, conservatives appear to have a greater capacity for this, don't they?
CM: Basically where I came down at the end of the book is that I think that especially the educated conservative does. I don't say I think the liberal can't do it. I think the liberal does do it. There seems to be two ways the conservatives go: the educated conservative, who has a lot of knowledge in their hands, seems to be really good at arguing their point without changing their mind. The conservative that doesn't know as much seems to do something pretty different, which is to rely upon quick, fast, economical thinking and just default. It looks like when you do that there are a lot of default that make you conservative. It's actually two different processes is the way that I'm thinking about it. There does seem to be some uncertainty here in terms of just how much conservatives do it versus liberals, but if you look at the issues where conservatives are really really wrong you find a lot of evidence of a lot of motivator reasoning.
JH: This gets into the smart idiot effect, when conservatives especially are exposed to more information they can actually be more wrong. What is the double-down effect?
CM: It's related. If you double down, what we mean is that someone gives you a factual refutation to your view, whatever it is. That factual refutation makes you believe your view more strongly than you did before you heard it. This has also been called the backfire effect. This has been captured in some studies where they try to refute a belief that a conservative holds, like the belief that tax cuts increase revenue. A belief where really you can't hold it; it defies economic physics. There's a doubling down in one of the studies I talk about on that point.
JH: You talk about how the conservatives have a need for closure. The way this plays out, in the way that they've created an alternate information infrastructure, you talk in the book about Conservapedia. For listeners who don't know what that is, explain what Conservapedia is. Another question is: does the Bible have a liberal bias?
CM: (Laughs) I think the guy who writes Conservapedia thinks everything in the world has a liberal bias. Conservapedia is this fascinating baroque haven of conservative wrongness on the web. It's written by Andrew Schlafly and he's the son of the grassroots conservative activist and mobilizer Phyllis Schlafly, the anti-feminist. He writes these incredibly long entries and is clearly a smart guy. He writes these very long entries about all the brilliant and incredible reasons for rejecting what's obviously true -- for being wrong, but being wrong in this elaborate way that you could only be this wrong if you're smart.