Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Conservatives are more honest than liberals

I'm always amused by the various polls and conclusions about Conservatives and Liberals. You know the ones I'm talking about - conservatives are more generous, liberals are smarter, conservatives are happier, etc...

Well, here's another one to add to the list, Conservatives are more honest than Liberals, from author Peter Schweizer (“Makers and Takers: Why Conservatives Work Harder, Feel Happier, Have Closer Families, Take Fewer Drugs, Give More Generously, Value Honesty More, Are Less Materialistic and Envious, Whine Less ... And Even Hug Their Children More Than Liberals”):
Yet there is a striking gap between the manner in which liberals and conservatives address the issue of honesty.

Consider these results:

Is it OK to cheat on your taxes? A total of 57 percent of those who described themselves as “very liberal” said yes in response to the World Values Survey, compared with only 20 percent of those who are “very conservative.” When Pew Research asked whether it was “morally wrong” to cheat Uncle Sam, 86 percent of conservatives agreed, compared with only 68 percent of liberals.

Ponder this scenario, offered by the National Cultural Values Survey: “You lose your job. Your friend’s company is looking for someone to do temporary work. They are willing to pay the person in cash to avoid taxes and allow the person to still collect unemployment. What would you do?”

Almost half, or 49 percent, of self-described progressives would go along with the scheme, but only 21 percent of conservatives said they would.

When the World Values Survey asked a similar question, the results were largely the same: Those who were very liberal were much more likely to say it was all right to get welfare benefits you didn’t deserve.

The World Values Survey found that those on the left were also much more likely to say it is OK to buy goods that you know are stolen. Studies have also found that those on the left were more likely to say it was OK to drink a can of soda in a store without paying for it and to avoid the truth while negotiating the price of a car.

Another survey by Barna Research found that political liberals were two and a half times more likely to say that they illegally download or trade music for free on the Internet.

A study by professors published in the American Taxation Association’s Journal of Legal Tax Research found conservative students took the issue of accounting scandals and tax evasion more seriously than their fellow liberal students. Those with a “liberal outlook” who “reject the idea of absolute truth” were more accepting of cheating at school, according to another study, involving 291 students and published in the Journal of Education for Business.

A study in the Journal of Business Ethics involving 392 college students found that stronger beliefs toward “conservatism” translated into “higher levels of ethical values.” And academics concluded in the Journal of Psychology that there was a link between “political liberalism” and “lying in your own self-interest,” based on a study involving 156 adults.

Liberals were more willing to “let others take the blame” for their own ethical lapses, “copy a published article” and pass it off as their own, and were more accepting of “cheating on an exam,” according to still another study in the Journal of Business Ethics.

Now, I’m not suggesting that all conservatives are honest and all liberals are untrustworthy. But clearly a gap exists in the data. Why?

He speculates about a possible explanation for the poll results:

The honesty gap is also not a result of “bad people” becoming liberals and “good people” becoming conservatives. In my mind, a more likely explanation is bad ideas. Modern liberalism is infused with idea that truth is relative. Surveys consistently show this. And if truth is relative, it also must follow that honesty is subjective.

He may have a point.


Tim Higgins said...


I am not surprised by this, but see it in a slightly way. (Big surprise, huh?) I believe that the relatavistic philosophy of modern liberalism tends towards morality. If you remember your philosophy courses, you will remember that morality is a changing landscape. Those who consider themselves part of moral societies have permitted many things over time from the Crusades to the Roman's Christian persecution.

Conservatives tend to look more for unchanging principles, better known as ethics. Ethics tells us that it is always wrong to lie, cheat, or steal. Time and circumstance do not change ethical teachings.

Al Gore can lie about the facts of Global Warming (by his own admission) to serve a higher "moral" purpose. Money can be taxed (stolen) from the rich to serve the greater good of those less well off. As for the cheating, this is where it gets complicated. A liberal can cheat on the increased taxes (passed for the greater good) in order to serve the other greater good of his family. This confusion, this moral dilemma, is probably what makes them less happy.

Kadim said...

I read an excellent article about this topic a few years back. It said that liberals and conservatives are equally as honest/dishonest, however, the things they lie about are different.

Liberals are more comfortable with white lies ("I did not have sex with that woman") whereas conservatives were more comfortable with lies that provided a means to an end (Iraq played a major role in 9/11.)

Obviously each type is equally problematic and destructive depending on the circumstances.

But the different lying styles make sense in the context of the mental differences between liberals and conservatives (the former being, for lack of a better term, more self-centered, the latter being more collaborative. People who are collaborative and conformist will seek truth in an absolute sense, whereas people who are self-centered will find truth in regards to their own reality.)

An excellent article in the Economist covered the evolutionary model for conservatism v. liberalism a few months ago...

"Dr Wilson suspects that the liberal package of individualism and confrontation is the appropriate response to survival in a stable environment in which there is leisure for learning and reflection, and the consequences for a group's stability of such dissent are low. The conservative package of collectivism and conformity, by contrast, works in an unstable environment where joint action, and thus obedience to their group, are at a premium."

Having said all that, the surveys cited in this article are a bit heavy on the white lie questioning, but if you threw in more of the "means to the end" questions, I'm sure things will even out.

At least, they should. People who are polarized in one direction or another will inevitably disagree because they will find one form of lying less severe than the other. :-)

Ben said...

Not surprising at all.

Mad Jack said...

Ponder this scenario, offered by the National Cultural Values Survey: “You lose your job. Your friend’s company is looking for someone to do temporary work. They are willing to pay the person in cash to avoid taxes and allow the person to still collect unemployment. What would you do?”

Take the job as a matter of survival, which has far and away more precedence than a bunch of tax laws.

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