Liberals tend to underestimate their similarity to other liberals, according to a recent study, while conservatives overestimate their similarities — and those differences may account for the relative political success of the tea party in comparison to Occupy Wall Street.
While the tea party has grown steadily more unpopular over the past three years, the conservative activist movement continues to exert a powerful influence on the Republican Party and U.S. politics.
By comparison, the populist Occupy movement pushed income inequality into the political consensus but failed to gain much political traction in the Democratic Party — and researchers say those structural differences are the result of the way liberals and conservatives perceive themselves.
“The inability of liberal Occupy Wall Street protestors to achieve consensus on vital issues ultimately contributed to the movement’s failure to develop solidarity and enact political change,” the researchers wrote in a study published Nov. 18 in Psychological Science.
That’s because liberals tend to think they’re each unique in their ideology, while conservatives and moderates have the perception that most other people think the way they do, concluded researchers Chadly Stern, Tessa V. West and Peter G. Schmitt.
The study builds on previous research that examined specific characteristics of each political group, such as studies that found liberals tend to be more creative and prefer to express their unique capabilities and to distinguish themselves in groups.
Another earlier study showed that liberals tend to be more open-minded and curious, while conservatives tend to be more conventional and better organized.
The recent study surveyed participants’ beliefs and preferences, as well as their perceived in-group consensus, political ideology, desire for uniqueness, perceived social desirability and opinions on topics as wide-ranging as abortion, poetry, sex and coffee.
The researchers said liberals displayed a fundamental desire to feel unique and resist conformity in comparison to conservatives in the study.
“Liberals’ underestimation of similarity likely undermines their ability to capitalize on the consensus that actually exists within their ranks and hinders successful group mobilization,” Stern told Raw Story.
The researchers said a weaker desire to feel unique actually works to conservatives’ advantage in politics.
“Even though it might not exist, they perceive consensus that helps them rally their base,” the researchers said.
While this has obvious short-term benefits, Stern said conservatives sometimes make hasty decisions without truly building broad consensus for their plans.
“The Tea Party’s decline in popularity could be due, in part, to the realization that the attitudes that the movement espouses might not be as widely held as its members think,” Stern said.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]