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"When partisanship is a factor, the moral values just seem to go out the window," says David Redlawsk, UD's James R. Soles Professor.
Most people say
they believe in a certain set of moral standards. These core moral
values — defined as the things that society largely believes to be right
and wrong — guide our decision making. But in what situations are
people willing to turn the other cheek when they see someone else do
Prof. David Redlawsk explained this scenario in the context of
partisanship during the March 5 luncheon for the University of Delaware
Association of Retired Faculty (UDARF) in Clayton Hall. Redlawsk is the
James R. Soles Professor and chair of the Department of Political
Science and International Relations at UD. He researches campaigns,
elections, voter decision making and emotional response to campaign
He found one’s political affiliation holds more value than one’s beliefs.
“People’s moral values matter when partisanship is not a factor, but
when partisanship is a factor, the moral values just seem to go out the
window,” he said.
He recently worked with coauthor Annemarie Walter, an assistant
professor at the University of Nottingham, to survey 2,000 respondents
nationally to better understand the relationship between partisanship
and moral values. They picked out five moral foundations (care,
fairness, loyalty, authority and sanctity) and asked respondents to rate
these morals with a set of hypothetical situations.
“We established a set of hypothesis for this particular study,” he
said. “The idea of the study was to try and understand whether and to
what extent partisanship overrides moral value.”
An example of a statement may read: You see a politician joke about
the stupidity of Americans. For some respondents the word politician was
swapped for republican or democrat.
Creating the statements was tricky, Redlawsk said.
“Unfortunately, these days it’s become really hard to come up with
examples that people don’t imagine could actually happen,” he said.
“Which says something, I suppose.”
Once Redlawsk and Walter collected the data, they examined it against
four theories they developed: (1) People respond negatively to moral
violations, (2) the more someone cares about a particular value, the
more negative their response, (3) people respond less negatively when
someone within their political party commits a moral violation and (4)
people will push their morals aside to defend someone within their
When tested against the data, the four hypotheses largely held up. If
a Democrat committed a moral violation, other Democrats saw this as
less negative compared to Republicans. The same idea applies if the
party affiliations are swapped, he said.
While the data is telling, there were some challenges that are
difficult to account for, Redlawsk said. The surveys were collected
shortly after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, which may
have heightened people’s sensitivities to the topic, he said. Also, they
are considering re-examining some values that may not be that important
to Americans, such as authority. Redlawsk said they plan to redo the
study in Europe.
Even when creating the statements, they played around with providing
very specific examples or ones that are more vague. There are so many
outside influences to consider, Redlawsk said.
“If you’re a political scientist, these are really interesting times,
right?,” he said. “But they’re also really difficult times in terms of
what we try to measure and how we measure it and how do we disentangle
automatically those kinds of questions from the current president.”
Article by Carlett Spike; photo by Kathy F. Atkinson
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