The Informed

Why Do Liberals Think They're Smarter? Because They Are, Studies Show

Conservatives are mean and selfish; Liberals flaky and scattered, a bunch of stoned slackers. 


Republicans are blood-thirsty war mongers. Democrats are Utopian dreamers with no grasp on reality. The stereotypes are common in the seemingly endless left-versus-right debate, and these often closed-minded views ultimately serve no one and lead only to puerile name-calling and a distorted view of the other. At that point, we're no better than Trump. Case(s) in point:

The national Democratic Party is immoral to the core. Any American who would vote for Democrats is guilty of fostering the worst kind of degeneracy. The leaders of this party are severely out of touch with mainstream, traditional American values. They are crusaders for perversion, for licentiousness, for nihilism and worse. - Joseph Farah, World Net Daily

Republicans don't believe in the imagination, partly because so few of them have one, but mostly because it gets in the way of their chosen work, which is to destroy the human race and the planet. Human beings, who have imaginations, can see a recipe for disaster in the making; Republicans, whose goal in life is to profit from disaster and who don't give a hoot about human beings, either can't or won't. - Michael Feingold, Village Voice

That being said, a topic that always ruffles a few conservative feathers is that science has demonstrated that liberal-thinking individuals, altruistic people, and the non-religious tend to be smarter, plain and simple. This is, obviously, not to say that all conservatives are dumber than liberals, but the trend is clear, and is worth examining in light of the ever-growing rift in left-versus-right ideology.

Researcher Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics and Political Science published a provocative and often-cited paper on the subject in March of 2010 (you can read an abstract of the paper here) wherein he attempted to not only find out if there was a correlation between intelligence and political ideology, but also why such a correlation might exist. 

What he found was that the more intelligent among us do tend to identify themselves as being liberal, and also that they were more open and able to comprehend evolutionarily new ideas, such as the desire to help people with whom they have no genetic relation. It has also been discovered that smarter people tend to be not only more altruistic and caring, but also more adaptable to new and shifting ideas, and less religious, particularly fundamentally religious. And none of this should be terribly surprising - conservative, by its nature, indicates an inclination towards traditional values, with less deviation from the norm than their liberal counterparts.

Common-sense and life experience (for many of us) backs up this research, generally speaking. Liberals typically While conservatives are generally more unyielding in their ideologies, even in the face of new and evolving evidence, they tend to benefit from thisfavour social programs at the expense of higher taxes, choose diplomacy over war, and equality over elitism. But the flip-side of this thinking is that while conservatives are generally more unyielding in their ideologies, even in the face of new and evolving evidence, they tend to benefit from this. Just look at the scattered organization of the Occupy movement, or the environmental movement as opposed to the rapid rise of say, the Tea Party. Very different ideologies and very different approaches. In fact, some research suggests that these qualities will ultimately result in more conservative policies being pushed through over time. And, let's be frank, life experience also teaches us that liberals have a much better sense of humour. Show me a conservative comedian that can hold a candle to Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert or John Oliver. Seriously, show me one.

And who do you think would be the more likely to beleive in scientific evidence? An independent study on the scientific accuracy of the US political candidates' comments with respect to climate change indicated a wide rift between the liberals and the conservatives. Ted Cruz, for example, scored 6 out of 100 for accuracy while Hilary Clinton scored 94. The study is as predictable as you might imagine. 

So why, exactly, do the more intelligent define themselves as liberal? So what are the general qualities of an intelligent person, and how does that correlate with a liberal viewpoint? Following is a list of what many psychologists agree are the common traits of intelligent people:

  • the ability to see not just black and white for a given issue, but the shades in-between
  • greater compassion and empathy for the less-fortunate and for those in need
  • intelligent people are funnier
  • more easily adaptable to new ideas
  • much higher acceptance of scientifically proven truths
  • less likely to be highly religious
  • more open-minded
  • they understand and accept they don't know all the answers
  • they are much more curious in nature

The correlation becomes obvious. Interestingly, or perhaps ironically, conservatives, being much more likely to dismiss scientific evidence are not very likely statistically to put any stock in these findings. And the cosmic ballet goes on.

Bertrand Russel famously said that:

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

This can help to explain just why it is that conservatives, when looking for a leader, tend to gravitate towards those who are self-assured, even when dead-wrong, as opposed to questioning, thoughtfulPerhaps ironically, conservatives are not very likely statistically to put any stock in these findings individuals. Just look at the huge numbers being boasted by Donald Trump in the current polls. Further to this is the notion that conservatives tend to demonstrate more qualities consistent with criminal behaviour. While commonly accepted in the psychology community that criminals tend to be, on average, ten points less intelligent than non-criminals, this is consistent with several conservative traits such as the willingness to go to war (murder) or to pay less tax for the rich (theft) for example.

Beyond all of the common-sense, all of the anecdotal and even all of the scientific evidence to support this theory is the deep underlying subtext of the American political landscape, namely that conservatives hate liberals, and liberals think that conservatives are dumb. With the growing partisan sentiments in the US and elsewhere in the developed world, these limited views of the so-called other side are neither healthy nor constructive. What politics needs more than ever, if politics is indeed even able to get to the root of society's problems in the slightest way, is a bipartisan conversation and bipartisan solutions. We need new ways of thinking over dogma, creativity over boxed-in thinking. And if liberals need to extend the olive branch to the conservatives in order to foster a political climate of cooperation then let them be the first to do so. They are far more likely to be the ones to go first, so says the science.

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