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Do Ethical Attitudes Shape Political Behaviours?

attitudes generally (not specifically ethical attitudes)

From an old metaanlysis on the relation between attitudes in general and behaviours.
Attitudes generally have relatively little influence on behaviours. How about specifically ethical attitudes?
‘Taken as a whole, these studies suggest that

it is considerably more likely that attitudes will be unrelated or only slightly related to overt behaviors than that attitudes will be closely related to actions’

\citep[p.~65]{wicker:1969_attitudes}

‘Only rarely can as much as 10% of the variance in overt behavioral measures be accounted for by attitudinal data.

In studies in which data are dichotomized, substantial proportions of subjects show attitude-behavior discrepancies. This is true even when subjects scoring at the extremes of attitudinal measures are compared on behavioral indices.’

(\citealp[p.~65]{wicker:1969_attitudes} quoted by \citealp[p.~51]{skitka:2008_moral}).

Wicker 1969, p. 65

Let’s take one study in this tradition.

Participants: 36 males, 18 high/18 low prejudice scores

Measure prejudice and then allow subjects to administer electric shocks to opponents in a game.

Will more prejudiced subjects differentiate between Black and White opponents?

Background: ‘The traditional social learning model posits that a negative attitude [...] facilitates aggression toward a disliked person’

\citep[p.~209]{genthner:1973_physical}.

Results: ‘While the low-prejudiced subjects behaved in a relatively nonaggressive manner toward both the Black opponents and the White opponents, the high-prejudiced subjects aggressed equally against’ both

\citep[p.~209]{genthner:1973_physical}.

Genthner & Taylor, 1973 p. 209

That research is really old!

What’s the state of the art now

on whether attitudes predict behaviours?

As background to the issue about moral psychology and climate change, we first want to look at a more general question. Do ethical attitudes shape political behaviours? (If this is not true, then we risk barking up the wrong tree with climate change.)

1

‘Moral convictions and the emotions they evoke shape political attitudes (Emler, 2003; Mullen & Skitka, 2006; Skitka, Bauman, & Sargis, 2005)’

\citep[p.~1]{feinberg:2013_moral}

Feinberg & Willer, 2013 p. 1

ok, let’s take a look ...

Skitka, Bauman, & Sargis, 2005

strong attitudes, moral vs nonmoral examples:

‘People’s feelings about various sports teams, their musical tastes, or even their relative preference for Mac versus PC operating systems could each easily be experienced as strong attitudes (extreme, certain, etc.), but would rarely be experienced as moral. People’s feelings about infanticide, female circumcision, abortion, or a host of political issues (gay marriage, the Iraq War, the Patriot Act), however, could be experienced as both strong and moral.’

\citep[p.~31]{skitka:2008_moral}

Skitka & Bauman, 2008 p. 31

Skitka, Bauman, & Sargis, 2005

‘we conducted four studies that examined whether strength of moral conviction predicted unique variance beyond other indices of attitude strength, such as attitude extremity, importance, certainty, and centrality, on a number of interpersonal measures’

\citep[p.~895]{skitka:2005_moral}

‘exploring whether people prefer greater social [studies 1 & 2; and physical: study 3] distance from attitudinally dissimilar others when the attitude domain was held with high rather than low moral conviction’

\citep[p.~899]{skitka:2005_moral}
Study 1 meausures, simplified:
[1] ‘attitude strength’: ‘the questionnaire asked how strongly participants felt about their identified problem (extremity), how important it was to them personally (importance), and how much it was related to how they see themselves as a person (centrality) on 5-point radio button2 scales with the point labels of not at all, slightly, moderately, much, and very much.‘
[2] ‘Moral conviction. Moral conviction was assessed with a single-item measure, specifically, “How much are your feelings about ______ con- nected to your core moral beliefs or convictions?” on a 5-point radio button scale with the point labels of not at all, slightly, moderately, much, and very much, where the blank was filled in with the participant’s self-reported most important issue.’
[3] Social distance. ‘Participants were asked the degree that they agreed or disagreed with different completions to the stem “I would be happy to have someone who did not share my views on (their identified most important issue) . . .”; sentence completions were “as President of the U.S.,” “as Governor of my state,” “as a neighbor,” “to come and work at the same place I do,” “as aroom mate,” “to marry into my family,” “as someone I would personally date,” “as my personal physician,” “as a close personal friend,” “as the owner of a store or restaurant I frequent,” “as the teacher of my children,” and “as my spiritual advisor.” Participants responded on 7-point radio button scales with the point labels of very much agree, moderately agree, slightly agree, uncertain, slightly disagree, moderately disagree, and very much disagree. \citep[p.~899]{skitka:2005_moral}

Skitka, Bauman, & Sargis, 2005

Results of Study 1:

‘The effect of moral conviction on social distance was robust when we controlled for the effects gender, age, attitudinal extremity, importance, and centrality’

\citep[p.~901]{skitka:2005_moral}

‘In contrast, participants were more tolerant of having a distant than an intimate relationship with an attitudinally dissimilar other, when the attitude dissimilarity was on an issue that the participant held with low moral conviction, results that held even when we controlled for attitude strength.’

\citep[p.~901]{skitka:2005_moral}

Background:

‘Moral convictions and the emotions they evoke shape political attitudes (Emler, 2003; Mullen & Skitka, 2006; Skitka, Bauman, & Sargis, 2005)’

\citep[p.~1]{feinberg:2013_moral}

Feinberg & Willer, 2013 p. 1

We were taking a look at this reference. Does it support the authors’ claim? Not obviously. But I want you to think about it
For what it’s worth, I’m not satisfied. moral attitudes predict preferences for social and physical distance: seems only indirectly related to politics. (Politics is life.)
ok what about other potential sources?

Evidence?!

Never trust a philosopher scientist.

Do specifically moral attitudes influence voting behaviour?

‘moral conviction about candidate preferences also uniquely increased the odds of voting, even when controlling for effects of candidate preference, party identification, strength of candidate preference, strength of party identification, and demographic variables.

‘As strength of moral conviction about one’s candidate preference increased, so did the likelihood that one voted’

\citep[p.~42]{skitka:2008_moral}

Study 2: voting intentions

similar results.

In both studies: ‘the effects of moral conviction on political engagement were equally strong for those on the political right and left’

\citep[p.~50]{skitka:2008_moral}

Skitka & Bauman, 2008 pp. 42, 50

For a review on moral conviction covering some of the research on political behaviours, see \citet{skitka:2010_psychology}.
There is a tricky question about whether we know attempts to measure moral conviction succeed, which \citet[pp.~36--7]{skitka:2008_moral} discuss (‘it has been our goal to measure moral conviction without confounding this construct with other markers of attitude strength ...’). Although this is not covered in lectures, there is some overlap with the upcoming discussion of the validity of using the Moral Foundations Questionnaire for cross-cultural comparisons.
So: I think there is some evidence for this claim, but what about moral convictions linked specifically to climate change?

1

‘Moral convictions and the emotions they evoke shape political attitudes (Emler, 2003; Mullen & Skitka, 2006; Skitka, Bauman, & Sargis, 2005)’

\citep[p.~1]{feinberg:2013_moral}

Feinberg & Willer, 2013 p. 1

What about political attitudes to climate change specifically?

\citep{doran:2019_consequence}

[consequences] ‘Overall, how positive or negative do you think the effects of climate change will be on [COUNTRY]?’.

[ethical concern] ‘Some people have moral concerns about climate change. For example, because they think that its harmful impacts are more likely to affect poorer countries, or because they feel a moral responsibility towards future generations. To what extent, if at all, do you have moral concerns about climate change?’

Doran et al, 2019 figure 2

‘Figure 2. Moral concerns about climate change across countries. Percentages of respondents choosing one of the answer options displayed above.’
Key thing to notice is just that there is some variance between countries, which will be important for disentangling effects of ethical concerns.
This was of framing the moral issue will be important later [because it appeals specifically to liberals, according to Feinberg & Willer]

[policies] ‘To what extent do you support or oppose the following policies in [COUNTRY]?’

Doran et al, 2019

Research question (simplified): to what extent will the consequences and ethics influence the policies?

Doran et al, 2019 figure 3

Results

‘individuals with strong moral concerns about climate change tend to be more likely to support climate policies.

moral concerns turned out to be substantially more important than consequence evaluations, explaining about twice as much of the variance.’

\citep[p.~622]{doran:2019_consequence}

Implication: ‘threat raising campaigns may not be the preferred strategy to encourage public engagement with climate change’

So: I think there is some evidence for this claim, although it is clearly a complex issue and much more could be said. My aim here is this: I hope you now at least understand how researchers have attempted to gather relevant evidence, and have some sense that the claim may be true.

1

‘Moral convictions and the emotions they evoke shape political attitudes’

\citep[p.~1]{feinberg:2013_moral}

Feinberg & Willer, 2013 p. 1