Yesterday I was reading an analysis of why liberals have made better use of the Internet as a political tool than have conservatives. The author, a political science professor at UC Irvine, cites a Harvard study that shows that political ideology shapes a group’s approach to community and discussion.
“Liberals, the research finds, are oriented toward community activism, employing technology to encourage debate and feature user-generated content. Conservatives, on the other hand, are more comfortable with a commanding leadership and use restrictive policies to combat disorderly speech in online forums.”
If this is true (and the Harvard study suggests it is), it’s no wonder that political discussion on the web skews left, as the Internet is tailor-made for a more anarchic style of debate and activism. And, though the article doesn’t mention talk radio, it’s easy to see that a mediated talk show, such as Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck, provides “commanding leadership” and maintains orderly speech and practices.
Thus, liberals tend to be more comfortable with activism, such as joining public demonstrations or boycotts, whereas conservatives generally work within established political structures. I think, for example, of my parents, who are deeply committed conservatives and Latter-day Saints. They had a Prop 8 sign in their yard, and they have donated generously to conservative candidates. However, they would never dream of demonstrating; my mother once reacted in horror when my brother suggested that, given the right cause, he would take to the streets. (Obviously, with the advent of the Tea Party movement, conservative activism is changing.)
It occurred to me that this same affinity for hierarchy and order might also be one reason Mormons tend to be conservative. I had always assumed that church members adopted conservative positions because they saw them as more compatible with the church’s doctrines, and that’s clearly true for such issues as abortion. But the link between Mormonism and, say, laissez-faire capitalism seems less clear. Maybe it is just that, as a whole, conservatism is more hierarchical and less anarchic, and that works well for people whose religion reflects that structure.
Some people around here have mentioned that people tend to move left in their politics upon leaving the LDS church, and though I don’t have any data to support that belief, that’s true for at least some people I know. The default assumption from some people is that, having abandoned the truth and turned their back on the Spirit, apostates are simply being drawn toward wicked political beliefs, such as supporting gay marriage. See, for example, the attack on Seth Payne for his support of gay marriage, which is seen as the ultimate in “open hostility” toward the LDS church; never mind that many believing members hold identical beliefs on this same issue.
But perhaps the reason for such gravitation left has less to do with joining the great and spacious “politically correct” world than it does in the loss of hierarchy. Simply put, leaving the LDS church requires walking away from the hierarchy and rejecting its authority. Without leaders to constrain the debate and shape opinion, the apostate is left to ponder what he or she really believes, not just in politics but in everything else. And as we’ve seen, liberalism tends to be a more welcoming place for those who don’t follow a hierarchy.