Note: On July 28, 2003, five days after first reading the article "Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition," by John T. Jost, Jack Glaser, Arie W. Kruglanski, and Frank J. Sulloway, I sent the email below to John Ray. It outlined some of my very preliminary findings after several days of running statistical analyses on more representative samples than those used in the Psychological Bulletin meta-analysis. The Jost/Glaser/Kruglanski/Sulloway paper included 88 samples, none of them representative samples of the adult population of any country, though two of their non-American studies were probability samples from one city or metropolitan area.

In the much larger manuscript that I have been working on over the last two months, I have been examining over 60 representative studies in 19 countries around the world, with over 77,000 respondents so far. Some of the patterns of cognition that the Jost group attributes to conservatives do not appear to stand up when tested on samples more representative than the ones they used.

Yesterday John Ray posted part of that old email, with some sections deleted and a few revisions and a few sentences of his own added that I had not read. What is below incorporates Ray's deletion of two sections, deletes an additional section on whether conservatives were beaten as children (in part because I have located more relevant data now on this question), deletes a few sentences and paragraphs, makes a very few corrections, makes some slight wording changes and qualifications, retains some of Ray's editing, and undoes other minor parts of that editing. Nothing substantial has been added, except as clearly noted in brackets.

As indicated, this was just an email based on five days' work. My thinking for the book chapter that I am writing on the subfield of conservatism research has progressed considerably in the last two months, as have some of the methods I employ, including weighting and meta-analysis where relevant.

--J. Lindgren, October 15, 2003

* * * * *

Change, Superstitions, Job Security, and Liberal Authoritarian Religions: Preliminary Comments on "Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition"

July 28, 2003 (revised October 15, 2003)


. . .

As evidence for resistance to change, Jost cites a 1981 paper by Conover and Feldman: "Consistent with this notion, Conover and Feldman (1981) found that the primary basis for self-definitions of liberals and conservatives has to do with acceptance of, versus resistance to, change . . . ."

I have read the Conover/Feldman paper and its data show nothing of the kind. In one model, using 1976 NES data, it shows significant results for an index of economic issues and an index of social issues. I went back to the 1976 NES codebook and found that of the 7 questions in these indices, 6 involved proposed conservative changes as the highest conservative response:

* favoring raising marijuana penalties;

* favoring a flat tax;

* favoring prohibiting all abortions (contrary to Roe v. Wade);

* favoring women in the home, not business (contrary to substantial female workforce participation);

* favoring individual, not governmental, payment of medical expenses (contrary to then-existing Medicaid); and

favoring people getting ahead on their own, not government ensuring jobs and a good standard of living (contrary to existing jobs programs, welfare, and taxation policies).

In other words, Conover and Feldman's data show that conservatives tend to favor right-wing change, though no mention of this is made in the text of the paper (there are some other oddities that will have to await a fuller scholarly analysis). For myself, I wouldn't take the conservative endpoint on any of these questions, but on some I wouldn't prefer the liberal endpoint either. The only one of the 7 index issues where conservatives were opposed to change from the then-existing status quo was the passage of the ERA—a left-wing change. There is no evidence presented in the Conover/Feldman data of a conservative general resistance to change from both sides of the political spectrum.

Conover and Feldman also coded answers to an open-ended question in the 1978 NES and found that the second most important idea defining conservatism mentioned for self-identified conservatives was change, while for liberals change was the most important idea. They did not code the attitude toward change, so it's impossible to tell from these data as presented whether conservatives defined themselves as pro-change or anti-change. The most often mentioned idea for conservatives' self-definition was "Fiscal Policies," not change (let alone resistance to change), as the Jost paper incorrectly contends. There is a little more that is arguably relevant in the Conover/Feldman paper, but nothing establishing a conservative preference against both left-wing and right-wing reform.

Jost's claim that "Conover and Feldman . . . found that the primary basis for self-definitions of liberals and conservatives has to do with acceptance of, versus resistance to, change" is flatly false. If there is evidence that actual, typical conservatives are resistant to right-wing change, the Jost group failed to mention it in their review article, or I missed it. It seems the most obvious of interpretive errors to confuse opposition to left-wing reform with opposition to reform. Given the evidence that conservatives favor right-wing change and the lack of evidence that they don't, I don't see how any one would conclude that conservatives are generally resistant to change. Since Jost's conclusion is so widely shared, the evidence to support it must lie elsewhere.


The Jost group argues that this supposed resistance to change carries over to the workplace. To support this claim about the workplace, they cite a study of 155 US undergraduate and graduate students (Atieh et al.) and a study of 478 workers from one city in former East Germany (Fay & Frese). According to the Jost group's account, the latter study seemed to be dealing with authoritarianism, a difficult concept to identify with conservatism in a former left-wing authoritarian state, as Fay and Frese note. The Fay & Frese abstract concludes: "Specifically, conservatives appear to be reluctant to take responsibility and show less personal initiative at work. Further, conservatives seem less ready to change at work, less interested in work innovation, make fewer attempts to introduce innovations at work, show less active career planning, and are less oriented toward growth and challenge."

Once again, some of these things have been studied, not with casual samples of available subjects or even with a carefully drawn study of workers in one East German city, but with carefully drawn probability samples representative of entire countries, such as NORC's General Social Surveys of the noninstitutionalized adult US population. Over the years, the GSS has asked over 16,000 respondents to rank order five attributes they would prefer in a job. Both liberals and conservatives rank the same attribute first--the "work [is] important and gives a feeling of accomplishment." But conservatives are significantly more likely to rank this attribute higher than liberals do, suggesting a greater commitment among conservatives to accomplishment.

In second place for liberals is a "high income" job, while for conservatives the second spot is "chances for advancement." This suggests, contrary to the much smaller East German study of authoritarianism that the Jost group relies on, that conservatives are the ones who look forward to change and promotions and embrace change; liberals instead want the security of a high income. In fourth place is "no danger of being fired," with no significant differences between liberals and conservatives. In last place for both groups is "working hours are short, lots of free time," with liberals again giving higher rankings to short working hours.

This is strong evidence over many years and 16,000 subjects that, as to job security, liberals and conservatives are similar, but when ranking job attributes conservatives value more highly chances for advancement and doing important work and a feeling of accomplishment. Compared to conservatives, liberals express crasser, more conventional values, a high income and short working hours. This fits with other data, such as that showing that conservatives have more control over their jobs at work, again contrary to the German study. The best evidence that has been brought forward to date suggests that the results from the former East Germany are not generalizable to the US. [Since July, I have examined representative studies from 18 other countries and in none of them is the pattern asserted in the Jost paper supported.]


In reviewing other people's work, Jost twice associates conservatives with superstition, e.g.: "Conservative attitudinal responses to these sources of uncertainty include superstition . . . ." Further, Jost makes extensive use of Wilson's C-scale, which codes superstition as conservative.

Once again, there are actual data on how many liberals and conservatives believe in superstitions. In 1996, Gallup asked a battery of questions on superstitions, and on almost every one, liberals were more likely to believe in superstitions (many appeared to be significant, though explicit significance information was not present in the Roper poll database I used).

September 3, 1996 Gallup Poll (n=1,000)

Data Source: Roper Poll Database

Percentage Not Believing in "Superstitions":

* ESP Lib 21 Con 31

* Telepathy Lib 34 Con 40

* Haunted Houses Lib 44 Con 53

* Clairvoyance Lib 38 Con 50

* Astrology Lib 42 Con 56

* Ghosts Lib 41 Con 58

* Reincarnation Lib 43 Con 63

* Commun. w Dead Lib 48 Con 61

* Telekinesis Lib 49 Con 58

* Witches Lib 62 Con 73

* Channeling Lib 61 Con 66

* Deja vu Lib 17 Con 28

* Devil Lib 44 Con 29

* Possession by Devil Lib 50 Con 36

* Angels Lib 20 Con 14

Then Gallup asked about experiences.

Percentage answering YES to having experienced the following:

* In touch with dead Lib 19 Con 16

* Consulted a psychic Lib 21 Con 12

* Been in Haunted House Lib 18 Con 16

* Talked with Devil Lib 6 Con 7

* Been w Ghost Lib 10 Con 9

* Lived Previous Life Lib 13 Con 5

* Read Horoscope Regulrly Lib 20 Con 15

* Deja vu Lib 68 Con 55

Gallup also asked whether people were superstitious about a black cat, a ladder, the number 13, breaking a mirror, speaking ill of a person making it come true, and knocking on wood. Each time, liberals reported being more superstitious, though only the latter may have been significant.

Except for devils and angels, this is a remarkably consistent pattern. Otherwise, liberals were more likely to believe in a wide range of superstitions. On the same day, Gallup asked about UFOs and by a margin of 56% to 39%, liberals believe that UFOs have visited the earth. Liberals reported acting on superstitions as well—consulting a fortune-teller or psychic (21% to 12% for conservatives) and reading astrology columns (20% to 15% for conservatives). Last, by a margin of 13% to 5%, liberals sometimes thought that they were here on earth in a previous life.

Nor is this the only such poll. A 1998 CBS poll found that 43% of liberals thought that some people can communicate with the spirits of dead people, compared to only 29% of conservatives. A 1994 Gallup poll found that liberals believed in Astrology (29% to 20%).

Only if you view religion as superstition (as an atheist myself, I will refrain from offering my opinion) is there any evidence that conservatives are relatively superstitious. Overall, Gallup's data suggest either that liberals are no different than conservatives or that liberals are somewhat more superstitious than conservatives. [I have located considerably more data on this subject, which is in the current non-circulating draft of my book chapter manuscript.]


The Jost group writes:

There is by now substantial archival research suggesting that during times of societal crisis, people are more likely to turn to authoritarian leaders and institutions for security, stability, and structure (e.g., Doty, Peterson, & Winter, 1991; McCann, 1997; Peterson et al., 1993; Rickert, 1998; Sales, 1972, 1973). Sales (1972), for instance, found that during periods of severe economic threat (the depression years of 1930–1939), people were more likely to join authoritarian churches, such as Southern Baptist and Seventh Day Adventist, and less likely to join nonauthoritarian churches, such as Northern Baptist and Episcopalian, compared with periods of relative prosperity (1920–1930). Similarly, years of heavy unemployment in Seattle, Washington (1961, 1964, 1969, and 1970), were accompanied by higher than usual conversion rates there for an authoritarian church—Roman Catholic—and lower than usual conversion rates for a nonauthoritarian church—United Presbyterian—whereas relatively good economic years in Seattle (1962, 1965, and 1966) coincided with lower than usual conversion rates for the Roman Catholic Church and higher than usual conversion rates for the United Presbyterian Church.

There is a big problem with this argument, at least as presented. The Psychological Bulletin article is using church membership information to indicate authoritarian and nonauthoritarian churches and then to generalize that membership information to conservatives. But Jost has made no attempt to determine whether the memberships of the churches he calls authoritarian in the periods studied (1920-39, 1961-70) were indeed politically conservative and whether the nonauthoritarian churches were politically liberal. Since Catholics were a big part of the New Deal coalition and mainstream Protestant churches were thought to be relatively Republican through at least into the 1970s, it may be that people were shifting to liberal authoritarian churches in times of crisis—a pattern that would undercut not just this argument, but the Jost et al. paper's repeated conflation of authoritarianism with conservatism. If Jost et al.'s authoritarian churches are at least as liberal as his nonauthoritarian churches, then the equation of conservatism with authoritarianism breaks down.

. . . [In the original version of this July 27, 2003 email, I examined GSS data from 1975-89 and found that the "authoritarian" churches tended to be more liberal than the "nonauthoritarian" churches. Since then, I have examined more relevant NES data from the 1960s and found the same pattern. The Episcopal Church at the time was sometimes called "the Republican Party at prayer." Yet moving away from that sect is treated as moving toward conservatism in the Jost group's paper.]

Once again, the Jost group's conflation of conservatives with authoritarians breaks down because (where there was a difference) conservatives were more likely to be members of Sales's nonauthoritarian churches than his authoritarian churches.


The idea that conservatives tend to favor blindly obeying authority is at the heart of some of the conservatism literature and of the Jost group paper's repeated conflation of conservatives with authoritarians. In the General Social Survey, respondents have been asked:

In general, would you say that people should obey the law without exception, or are there exceptional occasions on which people should follow their consciences even if it means breaking the law?

Conservatives are indeed more likely than liberals to say that people should obey the law without exception and not follow their consciences—from 39.5% for slight conservatives to 45.1% for conservatives to 43.5% for extreme conservatives, compared to 46.3% for moderates and 37% for slight liberals to 33.0% for liberals to 33.3% for extreme liberals. The connection between political ideology and full deference to law is a very weak one, not the kind of effect that could give rise to a near equation of conservatism with authoritarianism.

Indeed, political moderates report the highest adherence to following the law without exception (46.3%), insignificantly nosing out conservatives. [Thus, embracing blindly obeying the law is not a conservative thing, since conservatives are no different from moderates. Rather, refusing to embrace blindly obeying the law is a liberal thing.]

Let me put it another way, the differences between liberals and conservatives on obeying the law without exception are so small that they would not even be significant with the sample sizes that are used by the scholars in the overwhelming majority of the studies that the Jost group relied on. I am not arguing that the greater conservative deference to obeying the law is not real or should be ignored, just that the effect is much too small to be an important part of conservatism, let alone a reason for conflating authoritarianism with conservatism.

Interestingly, in exploring the data, I found two groups that expressed adherence to obeying the law without exception, ignoring even conscience. A staggering 70.9% of Asian-Americans said that the law should be obeyed without exception and a majority of African-Americans (55.6%) said that the law should obeyed without exception, compared to just 39.5-45.1% for conservatives. Since both ethnic groups are somewhat more liberal than the US average, this finding of a high deference for obeying authority is a big problem for those who would associate assertions of blind obedience with conservatives.

James Lindgren

Professor of Law, Northwestern University

Director, Demography of Diversity Project

Ph.D. Student, Sociology, University of Chicago

Some more poll data from Jim Lindgren, October 21, 2004 at the Volokhs

Anti-semitism in the 1930s.-- David Bernstein asks in passing about politics and anti-semitism in the US in the 1930s. I just analyzed some 1938 Gallup data that are among the more than 100 databases that I have on my laptop.

A spring 1938 Gallup Poll asked: "Do you think the persecution of Jews in Europe has been their own fault?

FDR voters: 12.1% entirely; 51.9% partly; and 36.0% not at all.

Landon voters: 9.7% entirely; 57.5% partly; and 32.8% not at all.

Dem voters for Congress: 11.5% entirely; 52.1% partly; and 36.4% not at all.

Repub voters for Congress: 9.7% entirely; 56.8% partly; and 33.5% not at all.

The poll also asked: "Would you support" "a widespread campaign against the Jews in this country"?

FDR voters: 13.0% yes.

Landon voters: 9.5% yes.

Dem voters for Congress: 14.7% yes.

Repub voters for Congress: 9.8% yes.

So on blaming the Jews for their persecution, both Republicans and Democrats were similarly highly anti-semitic (no significant differences).

But on favoring a campaign against Jews in the US, Democrats were significantly more anti-semitic.

Go to main "Of Interest" menu

Go to Index page for this site

Go to John Ray's "Tongue Tied" blog (Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Dissecting Leftism" blog (Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Australian Politics" blog (Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Gun Watch" blog (Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Education Watch" blog (Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Socialized Medicine" blog (Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Political Correctness Watch" blog (Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Greenie Watch" blog (Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Food & Health Skeptic" blog (Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Eye on Britain" blog (Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Immigration Watch" blog. (Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Leftists as Elitists" blog (Not now regularly updated -- Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Marx & Engels in their own words" blog (Not now regularly updated -- Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "A scripture blog" (Not now regularly updated -- Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's recipe blog (Not now regularly updated -- Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Some memoirs" (Occasionally updated -- Backup here)

Go to John Ray's Main academic menu
Go to Menu of recent writings
Go to John Ray's basic home page
Go to John Ray's pictorial Home Page (Backup here).
Go to Selected pictures from John Ray's blogs (Backup here)
Go to Another picture page (Best with broadband)