I have had a chance now to digest Jonathan Haidt's article in Reason, "Born This Way," that I referenced in my last post. Haidt is a psychologist doing research on the foundations of political and moral opinions. You can sample his scholarship at his home page. You can also participate in his research at this site. I have now looked at some of his more scholarly publications.
Haidt is one of the developers of Moral Foundations Theory, which outlines six "clusters" of moral concerns:
Haidt claims that "all political cultures and movements" base their moral appeals on these clusters. I haven't given this enough scrutiny yet, but it seems plausible.
His research establishes the following:
Political liberals [in the U.S.] tend to rely primarily on the moral foundation of care/harm, followed by fairness/cheating and liberty/oppression. Social conservatives, in contrast, use all six foundations. They are less concerned than liberals about harm to innocent victims, but they are much more concerned about the moral foundations that bind groups and nations together, i.e., loyalty (patriotism), authority (law and order, traditional families), and sanctity (the Bible, God, the flag as a sacred object). Libertarians, true to their name, value liberty more than anyone else, and they value it far more than any other foundation.
This strikes me as basically correct and it has one outstanding virtue. It recognizes that the difference between left and right is not a matter of opposing values so much as a difference in preferences when choosing from the same moral pallet. Liberals aren't unpatriotic (necessarily), but they are rather suspicious of and embarrassed by appeals to patriotism. Conservatives aren't uncaring (necessarily), but that is not the spot on the pallet where they most often dip their brushes.
One difference that does emerge from his research is that conservatives understand liberals a lot better than vice versa. Haidt, Jesse Graham, and Brian Nosek tested this question with a sample of 2000. A third of the respondents were asked to fill out a survey described their own opinions. Another third was asked to fill it out "as they think a 'typical liberal' would respond", and another third was asked to fill it out as a 'typical conservative' would respond.
The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who described themselves as "very liberal." The biggest errors in the whole study came when liberals answer the care and fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives.
Again, that seems to me to be about right. Liberals see themselves as less fearful, more open to change and they see conservatives as the opposite. A lot of recent scholarship backs them up on that. Liberals also see themselves as more open minded than conservatives. That seems not to be true.