The Cycle | September 17, 2012
>>> than happy to talk about what they think is wrong about america. they won't tell you how it started. they're happy to talk about what's wrong. they don't do much to tell you what they're going to do to make it right. they want your vote, but thep don they don't want to tell you their plan.
>> that's president obama campaigning in the battleground state of ohio in a direct appeal to rust belt voters in their jobs. "the new york times" estimates somewhere between 3% and 5% of the electorate this fall can be classified as swing voters . those could be swayed to either side. the rest of them seem to have their minds made up by now. the next guest knows about how voters actually make up their minds no matter what they tell themselves. jonathan is a professor aat nyu and he's the author of the it yus mind, why good people are divided by politics and religion . jonathan, thanks for being here. i want to take it from the perspective of we have such a polarized electorate right now where people are clearly democrats and republicans and very few are in between. you have a very interesting explanation of how it is that people arrive at their conclusions whether it comes to making political opinions . take us through what the process is for people and how they form their political opinions .
>> sure. so i study moral psychology . i do experiments on how people make moral judgments, and the basic finding is we make our moral judgments like we make our aesthetic judgments. we look at something and it looks good to us and ugly to us. we engage in reasoning, but that's what we do afterwards to justify ourselves and to persuade others to judge us. we're not good as weighing the costs and benefits. we tend to have an initial judgment and stick to it.
>> when we look at the electorate right now, if we take that chunk in the middle, the swing voters that decide it one way or the other, what kinds of messages do you think they are getting from the obama campaign and from the romney campaign? are there specific messages or specific tactics that either of those campaigns are using that you think are breaking through to voters at that intuitive level?
>> what's so interesting about this election is that it's a real shift from the culture that we had since the '90s, which was about abortion and patriotism and religion. now we shift over since the tea party to one about fairness, and the two sides have very different views of fairness. everybody is in favor of fairness, but on the right that tends to mean fairness as a equality and if there's massive inequality there might be unfairness. we're at the one-year anniversary of "occupy wall street ." on the right they focus on equity as proportionality. there's not a lot of sympathy for those at the bottom. both sides make arguments about fairness. we heard mitt romney about it's immoral to spend more than we take in. that's the equity thing. neither side is doing a good job of appealing to the american concerns for not just equity but equality of opportunity . that's one that i think romney has been weak on.
>> professor, it may or may not please you to know that i wrote my religious thesis for my masters at nyu on comparing group behavior amongst religious folks and sports fans. you write in the righteous mind about our groupishness, our desire to be part of groups. i get that implicitly. explain to me want mind of the undecided or swing voter who seems very content to wait until the last minute to belong to a group.
>> the most important fact about it we're so groupish. start by understanding our moral psychology and tribalism. you can see how it plays out in politics, religion, sports. people belong to a lot of groups, and for a lot of people belonging to the republican party or democratic party is not the most appealing groups sdwroin. a lot of americans are not members of one or the other. they call themselves independents. a lot of people are disgusted with the parties and partisanship.
>> when you talk about moral psychology , do politicians actually persuade people to vote for them, or is there something else going on?
>> this election is remarkable for how few people are in the center. prior to 2004 , campaigns fought it out for the center. there was some mixture in each party. the parties weren't as perfectly cleanly divides, and all the way up through george bush running as a compassionate conservative , everybody thought you had to get the center, and that used to be true. now that the parties are so separated, there are no liberals in the republican party and to conservatives practically in the democratic party , since 2004 they're going for the base. outrage them and get them to the polls. that tepnds to suppress participation in the center, but it brings up turnout on the extremes and this contributes to the polarization. this is where we're stuck now.
>> you write about the six clusters about moral concerns and how they prioritize them differently. can you talk about which moral concerns conservatives prioritize and the liberals prioritize.
>> with myr research group, we consistently find that people that say they're on the left tend to value all the items about care, concern, compassion. you hear that in obama's speeches. secondarily, there's fairness but fairness as equality and liberty as liberty from oppression. that's the liberal and moral view. conservatives care about all those things, but fairness is more for them. are you taking out in proportion what you put in? what social conservatives have that liberals don't often recognize is the idea that group loyalty, respect for authority and order and tradition, and a sense of purity or sanctity which you saw in the section on sack religion and blass femy. social conservatives have a broader, moral demand around those issues.
>> in 30 seconds there's one thing i'm dying to ask you. you set out as a liberal to write a how to guide for democrats to communicate in politics. when you wrote chapter 8 , you had to stop and say i can't call myself a liberal anymore. can you tell me why you came to that?
>> in ten seconds and less i tried to explain to liberals. by the time i wrote the book, they're right. both sides are right. left and right are like yin and yang. they see different threats and you actually need a balance. it's a good argument with a conservative and some liberals.
>> i'm glad i asked the question now. thanks so much for joining us.
>>> up next, he exposed us to baltimore's gritty underbelly in "the wire." now he has a candid take on corruption in the crescent city . david