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    Both Liberals and Conservatives Are Out-of-Control Exaggerators About How Immoral the Other Side Is

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    Senior Editor

    Why we think that Republicans are a bunch of racist poor people haters and Democrats will turn your church group into a drugged-out orgy.

    If you're a Republican, you're probably tired of hearing about how you're probably racist and how you don't care about poor people. If you're a Democrat, you've rolled your eyes at the incessant suggestion that you're un-Christian and sexually promiscuous and a harbinger of moral decay.

    That's because people on both sides of the aisle are constantly pushing exaggerated moral stereotypes about the other team, and most folks aren't aware of just how much exaggeration is going on. A new study published in the journal PLOS One finds that both conservatives and liberals exaggerate not just the shortcomings of the moral views of their political opponents, but those of their own peers as well.

    The study's authors write that "there are real moral differences between liberals and conservatives, but people across the political spectrum exaggerate the magnitude of these differences and in so doing create opposing moral stereotypes that are shared by all."

    A Republican, for instance, might end up believing that liberals want to turn the nation into a nonstop San Francisco-style gay sex party. But he'll also likely think that his fellow GOPers in general are more anti-gay rights than he is. He'll exaggerate both the moral ideals of his opponents and his own political brethren. However, he'll correctly intuit the difference between the nature of his and his in-group's moral priorities from liberals'; he'll just exaggerate how great those differences are.

    The study asked 2,212 randomly selected people to answer questions about "typical" liberals and conservatives, and placed their responses in context to their own political ideologies. It found that "liberals endorse the individual-focused moral concerns of compassion and fairness more than conservatives do, and conservatives endorse the group-focused moral concerns of in-group loyalty, respect for authorities and traditions, and physical/spiritual purity more than liberals do."

    In other words, liberals really do tend to emphasize the idea that everyone should get a fair shot, that we should stick up for the poor, and, yeah, that we should probably redistribute income by taxing the rich. Conservatives, meanwhile, really do prioritize protecting religious institutions, most often the Christian church. And yes, they revere police and military authorities and cherish loyalty to their peers—other conservatives—more than liberals do.

    But the study finds that most people overestimate those differences; they're priorities, not ultimate and totally definitive traits. And respondents exaggerated their own side's stances, too, remember. "Both liberals and conservatives exaggerated the ideological extremity of moral concerns for the ingroup as well as the outgroup," the findings reveal. The authors surmise that this happens because most people like to view themselves as something other than a "typical" liberal or conservative—they're not just sheep who toe the party line.

    Regardless, the study's authors hope that understanding that political opponents' differences are real but not nearly as vast as they imagine might eventually help erase "the moral distrust and animosity' endemic to the liberal-conservative culture war." They conclude that "Calling attention to this unique form of stereotyping, and to the fact that liberal and conservative moral values are less polarized than most people think, could be effective ways of reducing the distrust and animosity of current ideological divisions."

    Fat chance, I say. Those corporate apologist bigots will never see eye to eye with those sex-crazed commies.