Political Discrimination as Normative as Racial Divisions once were

Once upon a time, it was socially normative for society to divide itself along racial lines.  Thankfully, that time has passed and while racism still exists, it is generally considered to be a bad thing by most people in society.  The same trajectory is occurring with respect to attitudes toward homosexuals, with increased acceptance being not only encouraged, but mandated as the right thing to do.  However, in many circles, it remains normative for individuals to discriminate against those with the opposite political views.  Recent research indicates that this occurs amongst both parties.

Despite ample research linking conservatism to discrimination and liberalism to tolerance, both groups may discriminate. In two studies, we investigated whether conservatives and liberals support discrimination against value violators, and whether liberals’ and conservatives’ values distinctly affect discrimination. Results demonstrated that liberals and conservatives supported discrimination against ideologically dissimilar groups, an effect mediated by perceptions of value violations. Liberals were more likely than conservatives to espouse egalitarianism and universalism, which attenuated their discrimination; whereas the conservatives’ value of traditionalism predicted more discrimination, and their value of self-reliance predicted less discrimination. This suggests liberals and conservatives are equally likely to discriminate against value violators, but liberal values may ameliorate discrimination more than conservative values.

In addition, recent research out of Stanford University indicates that “hostile feelings for the opposing party are ingrained or automatic in voters’ minds, and that affective polarization based on party is just as strong as polarization based on race.”  Tackling this at the societal level is a daunting task for anyone, but there are things that one can do at the individual level.  Both research and practice indicates that positive relationships between individuals across such divides are likely to ameliorate such feelings.  Mixing group boundaries are likely to make competition less salient as well, perhaps allowing superordinate goals that we all share to come to the fore, as often happens when national emergencies strike.  Just as with discrimination based on race and sexual orientation, discrimination against opposing ideologies can be combated with similar techniques.

- Ravi Iyer