liberals, conservatives, the dogs we choose, and why the US election matters to Irish people

Elaine Burn, writing for the Irish Times, asks why the US election matters to Irish voters. You can find her fascinating piece here.

I was particularly taken by this extract.

Apart from the razzmatazz, the expensive campaigns and the media influence, why will people vote the way they will today? Psychologist Prof Jonathan Haidt, University of Virginia, has identified five fundamental moral values or foundations that form the basis of our political choices (see

(1) Harm/care underlines virtues of kindness, gentleness and nurturing;

(2) Fairness/reciprocity generates ideas of justice, rights and autonomy;

(3) Ingroup/loyalty emphasises patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group;

(4) Authority/respect stresses the virtues of leadership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions; and

(5) Purity/sanctity underlies religious notions of striving to live in a more noble way.

Haidt believes that the personality traits of individuals, for example what they eat and read, determines whether they are liberal or conservative and consequently why they are more predisposed to vote Democrat or Republican. A voter who has a high tolerance towards “openness” to experience, Haidt argues, is more likely to vote Democrat than someone who prefers a familiar, safe and dependable environment.

Here is the full video presentation by Haidt.

But the final extract that caught my eye was this one,

Your dog can tell a lot about your voting patterns too.

A questionnaire developed by Haidt found that liberals were more likely to get a dog that was “independent-minded and relates to its owner as a friend and equal”. Conservatives, he found, preferred dogs that were “extremely loyal to its home and family, and doesn’t warm up quickly to strangers.” What kind of dogs do Irish politicians have?

The crux of the disagreement between liberals and conservatives is, for Haidt, the rejection by liberals of three moral foundations: loyalty, authority and sanctity. In other words, liberals speak for the weak and oppressed and want change and justice, even at the risk of chaos. Conservatives speak for institutions and traditions and want order, even at cost to those at the bottom.

Regular readers know I have a very loyal and loving chocolate labrador who rolls over at the mere approach of a stranger. Not only that, when he was a pup and attending his first training session the trainer rolled his eyes and told us chocolate labs were the most stubborn dogs!

I’m confused. Probably why I’m not a politician.

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