Right On? Professor’s study shows young adults overestimate their own conservatism
Article by Michelle Hines
Young adults tend to be more liberal than they think they are, according to a new study by a UNCG researcher that’s getting national attention.
Ethan Zell, a psychologist at UNCG, co-authored the study with Michael Bernstein, a psychologist at Pennsylvania State University-Abington. Zell and Bernstein based their results on three separate surveys of college students and other adults under 30, and published the study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Across the board subjects underestimated their liberal leanings with the exception of those who considered themselves liberal democrats. The gap between self-perception and reality was more pronounced among those who considered themselves conservative.
While Zell can’t be certain of why this trend exists, he and Bernstein speculate that there may be a difference in psychology among conservative and liberal thinkers.
“Conservatives may value loyalty more than liberals, including loyalty to a political party,” he says. “They may want to see themselves as fitting into a particular group more than they really do. We’re not trying to make either group look better or worse, or to make any judgments.”
Zell, whose research focuses on self-knowledge, is also a self-described PBS News Hour fan. When he took an online quiz on 12 major political issues — including gay marriage, health care, abortion, welfare and the environment — designed for News Hour by the Pew Research Center, he began to wonder how accurately people can predict their own political leanings.
Zell and Bernstein used the Pew Quiz to gauge students at their respective universities and also recruited young adults online through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to round out their sampling. Altogether about 700 young adults were sampled in three surveys.
The researchers plan to continue their research with a sample of older adults, but the initial study, which has been picked up by Salon.com and Pacific Standard, has important implications for young voters.
“If their perception of themselves is wrong they may be voting for the wrong person, or at least voting for people who don’t match their views,” Zell says.