Both Liberals and Conservatives are Prejudiced (But in Very Different Ways)

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“Study: Both rightists and leftists are prejudiced — but toward different groups” oh my goodness, what a headline! Have I been wrong basically all my life to not notice that progressives are just as bigoted as conservatives? I guess so. Oh wait, hold on, I forgot the golden rule: let’s READ THE FUCKING ARTICLE! And just as a heads up, when I say that I usually mean “the actual scientific paper,” not “the mainstream news article.” In this case, though, the full article isn’t free online, but good news! The news article has everything we need to explain what’s actually going on.

First thing to know is that this study was not conducted in the US, so if you’re American, you should not necessarily be picturing Ted Cruz versus Beto O’Rourke. It was conducted in Poland, though, which does lean pretty heavily right like the US, so it’s not a completely terrible translation.

Second of all, like most psychology studies, this one was conducted on students. This is an ongoing problem and we should remember that not everyone has the same outlook as a 19-year old white psychology undergrad.

Third of all, while the study did find that rightists and leftists are both prejudiced toward people on the other side of the political aisle, it did not find that they were equally prejudiced. For instance, leftists were prejudiced against Catholics who wanted public schools to teach religion classes, but not against Catholics who were fine keeping religion out of public schools. Meanwhile, rightists were prejudiced against atheists. All of them. Regardless of whether or not the atheists wanted to remove religion from schools.

That is in no way equal. It’s understandable to have a bias against someone who is going to impact your life in what you view to be a negative way. It is bigoted to have a bias against someone who has no impact on you, just because you don’t like what they personally believe.

So when we talk about “prejudice” we’re not talking about “bigotry” in both cases — only in the conservatives’ case, and that is a very important distinction.

The more interesting finding here is that they measured right and left worldviews as both economic and cultural. It’s a common misconception that those two things aren’t interrelated, which is how we end up with fiscally conservative/socially progressive Libertarians who don’t understand how economic inequality ties in with the “War on Drugs” and other racist policies, but let’s just accept it and move on. The study found that people were less likely to be biased against people on the other side of the economic aisle, and more likely to be biased against people on the other side of the cultural aisle, indicating that the thing stoking the prejudice is based upon our value system.

As an example, if your coworker mentions voting for a proposition that will raise sales tax, and you’re against that proposition, you’re not very likely to develop a prejudice against him. But if he votes for a proposition that directly confronts your core values, like, say, allowing amusement parks to keep whales in tanks, that is more likely to bias you against him. I mean really because what kind of monster wants a whale kept in a tank. Did he not see Free Willy? Blackfish?? THE COVE??? Sorry, I’m getting off track.

So yes, liberals and conservatives both have biases against the other side, but the important takeaways are that they are not equal in severity or logic, and they are mostly based on a perceived difference in cultural values. And in the actual study examples, leftist values were “please leave us alone” and rightist values were, well, “no.”

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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  1. wow…I expect the writer of this article to be one-sided, but it would be nice if you could get over yourself long enough to actually digest information and deduce an unbiased analysis. This is nothing but rubbish.

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