Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and the Cato Institute’s Emily Ekins have an incredible article on the moral psychology of different candidate supporters. The two begin with the 6 major moral foundations:
- Care/harm: We feel compassion for those who are vulnerable or suffering.
- Fairness/cheating: We constantly monitor whether people are getting what they deserve, whether things are balanced. We shun or punish cheaters.
- Liberty/oppression: We resent restrictions on our choices and actions; we band together to resist bullies.
- Loyalty/betrayal: We keep track of who is “us” and who is not; we enjoy tribal rituals, and we hate traitors.
- Authority/subversion: We value order and hierarchy; we dislike those who undermine legitimate authority and sow chaos.
- Sanctity/degradation: We have a sense that some things are elevated and pure and must be kept protected from the degradation and profanity of everyday life. (This foundation is best seen among religious conservatives, but you can find it on the left as well, particularly on issues related to environmentalism.)
In the graph below you can find how supporters of the various candidates scored:
Here are some highlights from Haidt and Ekins:
- “The most obvious thing to note is that supporters of the two Democratic candidates are high [in Care], whereas supporters of most Republicans are low. This is consistent with most studies of the left-right dimension: The left values care and compassion as public or political values more than the right does. (We note that all people, and all groups, value care to some extent; we are merely looking at relative differences among groups.)…Rand Paul’s supporters score particularly low [in Care]. We have consistently found that libertarians score lower on care and compassion compared with others — indeed, they score low on almost all emotions, while scoring the highest on measures of reason, rationality, and intelligence.”
- “As you move to the right, the bars [in Fairness] rise. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio supporters score highest on this foundation. This pattern is consistent with these candidates receiving the most support from the Tea Party. In our earlier research, we have each independently reached the conclusion that Tea Party supporters are highly motivated by the sense that the government routinely violates proportional fairness, by bailing out well-connected corporations and by spreading a safety net of welfare benefits under people they see as undeserving of help.”
- “Not surprisingly, Rand Paul’s supporters rate [Liberty] the most important foundation, by far…More surprisingly, Bernie Sanders supporters also score high. Sanders seems to be drawing the more libertarian elements of the left, consistent with his more libertarian views on personal freedom, gun rights, and dovish foreign policy. Libertarian-minded voters seem to choose Sanders if they are on the left on economic policy, and Paul if they are on the right…Clinton supporters, in contrast to Sanders’s supporters, score slightly below the national mean. This may be one of the most important differences between the two candidates: Clinton attracts voters less concerned about individual autonomy.”
- “Supporters of the Republican candidates tend to highly rate authority/loyalty/sanctity. Supporters of Democrats and libertarian-leaning Rand Paul do not…Sanders supporters score the lowest on these foundations and are joined not by Clinton supporters but by Paul supporters.”
But perhaps the biggest surprises?:
One surprise in our data was that Trump supporters were not extreme on any of the foundations. This means that Trump supporters are more centrist than is commonly realized; consequently, Trump’s prospects in the general election may be better than many pundits have thought. Cruz meanwhile, with a further-right moral profile, may have more difficulty attracting centrist Democrats and independents than would Trump.
One last interesting finding: Jeb Bush supporters are closest to the average American voter, despite the fact that his campaign has thus far has failed to gain any traction among Republican primary voters.
Bush’s failures may have more to do with his poor debate performances than with his moral profile, but in this time of high and rising polarization, cross-partisan hostility, and anger at elites and the establishment, Bush appears to be suffering from an excess of agreeability: He has no standout moral message that connects to any particular moral foundation, even at the risk of alienating supporters of another.
Check it out.