Conservatives and "Fear" — the Yale Study

By Stephen, 27 November, 2018

The Yale study that pretends to shift conservatives into liberals, made famous at the Washington Post (behind a firewall), finds that when you empower people to deal with threats, people become less fearful, and less conservative.

It makes sense if conservatism, at its evolutionary core, is our defensive thought pattern, and liberalism is the hopeful one. Not a leftist caricature of cowardly fear, but rather a tendency to see threats: to which you might respond with bravery or cowardice. Fox has manipulated that not-so-crazy not-so-pathetic impulse, stoking it over and over. But in nature, conservatives are the defenders — protecting what we have, and liberals the ones who encourage a little more risk taking — open to change.

If most people — and all swing voters — are a bit of both liberal and conservative, then the Democrats need to get better at explaining why we are capable defenders. When Fox claims we want open borders, we need a really good answer, whatever it is, at that moment. In my experience, progressives usually ignore that and just go back to talking about compassion. Fear — the sense that Democrats are not good defenders — is where the leak is.

### It's not "fear" that they studied ###

The Yale study shows a few flaws, especially as it transforms into headlines. Telling people to imagine they are superheroes in a study would be the equivalent of *actually* dealing with threats and empowering people in real life. In other words, the study finds that if we secured the border and won the war on terror and defeated our political opponents and had everything under control, people would become more liberal. And I totally agree — said the right way, I expect conservatives agree, that they are the defenders of the nation, and if you really took away all the threats, there'd be less need for conservatism.

Instead, it's a focus on dealing with threats. Maybe by fear. Sometimes by bravery. Superpowers — what the study uses in an imaginary setting — are obviously not a real-world solution to turning conservatives into liberals. What is? Making clear that amongst the idealism and compassion, we are capable of defending the country and dealing with threats.

### What if you believe Democrats deal with threats better? ###

This is where communication techniques are key. I don't hear much active listening when progressives talk about families being gassed at the border. Over and over, conservatives say we want open borders. If we want to win them over, we either convince them, as in the Yale study, that we have magic super powers, or we tell them a real plan to defend the border or otherwise deal with the threat at the moment they express that fear. Our sound bites and memes need to cut from being pure-empathy to about 50/50: empathy, and (we hear you!) we have a plan to keep Americans safe.