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The Righteous Mind Explains Obama Lead

by John on 09/24/2012

Here’s more on the book The Righteous Mind.  I have reviewed it for you here.

But the book has also made me understand why President Obama is ahead in the polls.  According to Jonathan Haidt, Obama is hitting all the moral taste buds of everyone.

Haidt describes the 6 Moral Foundations as if they are taste receptors on our moral pallet.  Here they are paraphrased from Wikipedia:

  1. Care/harm for others, protecting them from harm.
  2. Fairness/cheating, Justice, treating others in proportion to their actions, giving them their “just desserts”  
  3. Liberty/oppression, characterizes judgments in terms of whether subjects are tyrannized.
  4. Loyalty/betrayal to your group, family, nation.
  5. Authority/subversion for tradition and legitimate authority. (He has also connected this foundation to a notion of Respect.)
  6. Sanctity/degradation, avoiding disgusting things, foods, actions.

Haidt finds that Democrats normally attach themselves to the first three: Care/Harm; Fairness/Cheating; and Liberty/Oppression.  Those bleeding hearts!

However, Republicans seem to have a strong taste for all 6 foundations.  That’s why the GOP and conservatives are far more passionate.  But they also seem to hit voters on a more emotional and patriotic level.

So why is President Obama ahead in the polls?  Taking Haidt’s theories, you could say he is hitting all the moral taste triggers once owned by the GOP.

  • Remember his acceptance speech.  He spoke about helping the military especially our returning vets.  He hit the Loyalty/Betrayal portion of our moral tongue.
  • His speech touched on the Authority/Subversion foundation when he talked about killing bin Laden.
  • In the speech, he also talked about preserving the auto industry.  Sure, that’s something that will appeal to labor unions.  But I have to think he is also appealing to the tradition of our auto industry too.
  • The GOP and the gun lobby are trying their best to paint Obama as someone who will take away our guns.  (If I see another email about the stockpiling of guns by the government to keep Obama in power I might shoot myself.) But the reality is this: no major gun laws have been passed to restrict gun ownership.

The easy hot-button GOP issues are not there anymore.  Like Clinton in 1996, Obama has stolen GOP thunder.

Haidt talks about the failure of the Kerrey Campaign in 2004 in which he only hit 3 of the traditional Democratic traditions.

Is it that simple?  Who knows.

Don’t Romney’s gaffes have anything to do with it?  Maybe.

Read the book and you tell me.

Still to come:

I lay out my stand on the election (Uggg!) using the theories behind The Righteous Mind.

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