by Emmy Pagel
The following research demonstrates the effects of a personal interest in politics and the value of tolerance on left-right political affiliation in American individuals. The relevance of this question lies in the increased party polarization and moral division between ideologies in the United States. While determining the effects of the value of tolerance and interest in politics, data was collected by difference of means test, correlation coefficient, and multivariate regression analysis. The results indicated that interest in politics had little effect on left-right political affiliation, but the value of tolerance and respect for others had a positive effect on left-right political affiliation.
The United States has always been polarized; with a two-party system defining our government, this structure permits challenges in distinguishing between the perspectives of good and evil In recent years, especially since the 2016 election, the United States has been increasingly polarized on almost every modern political issue. From gun control to human rights, one side of the aisle has their truth and the other has theirs. In my research, I set out to determine the effect of a personal interest in politics and the value of tolerance on left-right political affiliation in American individuals. Despite finding that political interest had little to no effect on left-right political standing, the value of tolerance and respect for others was more important to those who were left-leaning than to those who were right-leaning.
I begin my research by reviewing literature surrounding the influences on political ideology and then what distinguishes left ideology from right ideology. The similarities and differences between these two can impact an individual’s party identification, or can blur the lines between personal opinions or beliefs. My theory and hypotheses follow the literature review, in which I hypothesize that a higher personal interest in politics and a belief that tolerance and respect for others is an important quality to teach children would make an American more left-leaning than right-leaning. I follow by discussing the methods and data that I used, including the validity and reliability of my variables. Lastly, I analyze my results and conclude that an interest in politics had little to no impact on left-right political standing, but those who agreed that tolerance and respect were important values to teach children were more left-leaning.
Party identification and political ideology have become more controversial in recent years. Whether an individual identifies as conservative, liberal, Democrat, or Republican, there’s always something to be said about one viewpoint or another. But the distinctions between each of these opinions aren’t as clear-cut as one may believe. For instance, racial categorization and identification impact a person’s party affiliation, but not their political ideology (Mangum 2013). A variety of studies have analyzed the impact of political parties and ideologies, as well as their relationships with different facets of life.
One element that was studied is the influence of racial factors on a person’s identification with the Democratic party or Republican party and their alignment with liberal or conservative ideology. Maruice Mangum conducted a study that analyzed the relationship between racial categorization, identification, and consciousness with party identification and political ideology. Using data from the 2004 National Politics Study, developed from a telephone survey of 3,339 respondents conducted in September 2004 to February 2005, the study concluded racial categorization and identification were relied on by Americans when choosing which party to affiliate themselves with (Mangum 2013). Comparatively, racial and moral issues impacted Americans’ choice in ideology, but racial categorization, identification, and consciousness didn’t affect their preference for one ideology over another (Mangum 2013). Although racial factors can influence a person’s ideology and party identification, ideology and identification can impact a person’s desire for societal progress and change.
In their study Jutta Proch, Julia Elad-Strenger, and Thomas Kessler, analyzed the commonly-accepted notion that liberals tend to fight for societal change and conservatives fight to resist They conducted three studies, the first study (Study 1) assessed the common persons’ conceptions about liberals’ and conservatives’ attitudes towards change (Proch, Elad-Strenger, and Kessler 2019). The results of this study agreed with the initial assumption that liberals accept and conservatives resist change (Proch, Elad-Strenger, and Kessler 2019). However, the second and third studies (Study 2A, Study 2B, and Study 3) asked self-identified liberals and conservatives whether they would resist or accept change on various sociopolitical issues (Proch, Elad-Strenger, and Kessler 2019). Results suggested that both conservatives and liberals resist and accept societal changes, but the extent in which they go to accept or resist these changes depends on the sociopolitical issue in question (Proch, Elad-Strenger, and Kessler 2019). Overall, this study challenged theoretical and common assumptions regarding psychological differences between political ideologies.
Herbert McClosky and Dennis Chong conducted another study aimed at challenging assumptions based on left and right ideology. The view of the political spectrum, differentiates ideology on the points of left and right, in a linear depiction. Yet, some observers believe that the far-left and far-right resemble each other in political and psychological characteristics (McClosky and Chong 1985). This study finds that far-left and far-right radicals that are properly screened and selected would resemble each other in a number of ways having to do with radical zeal, political style, and political and psychological inflexibility (McClosky and Chong 1985). While taking samples from multiple surveys, McClonsky and Chong found that on specific issues such as conventionality, family values, and racial equality, those who identify as liberal or conservative were on opposite sides of the political spectrum. However, when comparing the two radical sides’ thoughts on their faith in democracy, politics, and politicians, they found that both had a severe distrust and estrangement from the government (McClosky and Chong 1985). This study also explored the idea of party extremism and the violence and polarization that consequently result.
As the wake of deadly attacks by right-wing extremists in the United States, such as those in Charlottesville and Pittsburgh, the attention on this kind of extremism has grown (Jackson 2019). In his schema, Sam Jackson highlights the main types of right-wing extremism: racist extremism, nativist extremism, and anti-government extremism (Jackson 2019). Racist extremism is organized around perceptions of racial identity. Nativist extremism focuses on a reaction against people that are considered foreign and anti-government extremism is the belief that the federal — and sometimes local — government is illegitimate (Jackson 2019). Jackson concludes that despite these clear distinctions between types of right-wing extremism, factions within this type of extremism may change shape and size over time. This clear analysis of right-wing extremism carries into the topic of terrorism, with which the United States has a growing problem.
According to a study done by Seth Jones, Catrina Doxsee, and Nicholas Harrington, the most significant terrorism threat comes from right-wing extremist groups, including white supremacists. Along with this threat, terrorism itself will continue to rise based on significant party polarization and the upcoming presidential election (Jones, Doxsee, and Harrington 2020). This study compiled a data set of 893 terrorist attacks and failed plots in the United States between January 1994 and May 8, 2020 (Jones, Doxsee, and Harrington 2020). The results concluded that right-wing activities account for the majority of terrorist incidents in the United States since 1994. It also showed the total number of right-wing attacks and plots has substantially increased over the past six years, results demonstrated right-wing perpetrators were responsible for more than half of the annual deaths in fourteen of the twenty-one years during which fatal attacks occured (Jones, Doxsee, and Harrington 2020).
Controversies, misconceptions, and violence have all arisen from rampid party polarization and conflicts between political ideologies. All of the studies discussed analyze a particular element of left and right ideology, whether that be through the impact of race or the likelihood of violent extremism. Overall, political ideology and party identification impact Americans in one way or another and will continue to do so into the future.
Theory and Hypotheses
I believe that a person’s interest in politics and their level of tolerance for others would influence their party affiliation based on the typical values that align with the distinct left and right perspectives . For instance, those who are more for women’s rights, gay marriage, and racial equality tend to fall into the left, while those opposing these ideas tend to associate with the right. This would indicate that someone’s level of tolerance and respect for others would influence their affiliation: those with more tolerance would associate with the left, and those with less tolerance would associate with the right. I also assume that an individual’s personal interest in politics would influence their party affiliation, As the working class is most affected by politics and policy, this group tends to lean to the left and higher class who remain less affected swings towards right ideology. — typically lean to the left, while those who aren’t directly impacted by politics lean to the right.
My research hypothesis (H1) states that if an individual’s level of tolerance is high and they have a personal interest in politics, then they will affiliate with the left ideology. In relation, my second research hypothesis (H2) states that if an individual’s level of tolerance is low and they do not have a personal interest in politics, then they will affiliate with the ideology of the right. My null hypothesis, therefore, is that an American individual’s level of tolerance and their interest in politics has no effect on their political affiliation.
Methods and Data
I analyzed my data through the World Values Survey (WVS), specifically data from the United States between the years 2017 and 2020. The indicator for my dependent variable asked the question: “In political matters, people talk of “the left” and “the right.” How would you place your views on this scale, generally speaking?”. While turning this question into a testable variable, I converted my dependent variable into an ordinally-measured variable with a scale that had “left” and “right” on opposite ends; and numbers in between represented self-identification on the political scale. For example, a “2” would represent someone who aligned more closely with the left than the right. I believe that this question is reliable since it prefaces the purpose of knowing the idea of the political spectrum before it goes into the main question. This ensures that the respondents know the purpose of the question and can identify where they fall in terms of left and right. This indicator is also valid since it reflects my research goals to discover the effect of political interest and tolerance on an American individual’s political alignment.
The indicator for my first independent variable stated: “How interested are you in politics?”. The indicator was transformed into a variable by becoming measured into categories that ranged from “1) Very Interested, 2) Somewhat Interested, 3) Not very interested, 4) Not interested at all”. I believe that this question is reliable because it clearly asks the respondents a specific question and provides appropriate responses.Similarly, this question poses inherent biases that could skew someone’s answer based on the wording of the question. Also, this indicator is valid since it relates to the overall concept of left-right ideology. Its face validity is proven by the idea that someone’s interest in politics could either skew them to the left or the right.
The indicator for measuring my second independent variable stated: “Here is a list of qualities that children can be encouraged to learn at home. Which, if any, do you consider to be especially important? Please choose up to five: Tolerance and respect for other people.” This variable was transformed into a binary variable in order for it to become testable. The categories were separated into “1) Important” and “2) Not mentioned”. I believe that this question is reliable because it’s not just asking the respondents if they are tolerant and respectful to others, because most people would inherently believe they embody these qualities . Rather this question gets to the root of an individual’s values by asking if treating people with respect is a value that they should teach their children. This question presents validity since it has to do with the idea of left-right ideology and the values that people hold. For instance, the left is popularly seen as valuing equal rights while these aren’t major values on the right. The face value of this indicator is highlighting an individual’s values in comparison with their political affiliation.
Results and Discussion
The Table 1 lists the descriptive statistics of my dependent variable, ordinal independent variable, and nominal independent variable. For my dependent variable (Q240: left-right political scale), its minimum value is listed as “1” indicating a left-leaning political stance. On the opposite end, its maximum value is listed as “10” indicating a right-leaning stance. The mean of my dependent variable was 5.32. The mean indicates that most American individuals typically fall in the middle or middle-right of the political spectrum. The standard deviation of the dependent variable is 2.502 and demonstrates that the data is fairly spread out around the mean. For my ordinally-measured independent variable (Q199: interest in politics), its minimum value was “1” meaning that an individual is very interested in politics and its maximum value was “4” meaning that an individual is not at all interested in politics. The mean of my first independent variable is 2.25, claiming that most Americans are somewhat, or not very, interested in politics. The standard deviation is 0.911, meaning that data is not widespread around the mean. For my second independent variable (Q12: important child qualities: tolerance and respect for other people), which is nominally measured, 70.8% of Americans claimed that this quality was “important” while 29.2% of Americans chose “not mentioned”.
While determining the effect of my nominally-measured independent variable on my dependent variable, I performed a difference of means test. The difference of means for whether an American’s standing on the left-right political scale based on the quality of tolerance and respect showed that those who chose the “important” category had an average of 4.93. Whereas those who chose the “not mentioned” category had an average of 6.23. The mean difference of -1.294 between the two groups was significant at p < 0.05.
For my ordinally-measured independent variable, I performed a correlation coefficient test to determine its effect on my dependent variable. The correlation between an interest in politics and standing on the left-right political scale was a negative one at -0.002, which was insignificant at p < 0.05.
For the relationship between my dependent variable (Q240: left-right political scale) and my nominal independent variable (Q12: important child qualities: tolerance and respect for others), the coefficient was 1.294, the constant was 3.639, and the p-value was 0.000. This showed that the size, therefore, was large and the sign was positive, and the data was significant due to the p-value. This showed that the null hypothesis is turn out to be true 0 out of 100 times. The p-value signifies whether or not I am able to reject my null hypothesis between these two variables, which states that there is no relationship between tolerance and respect as a value for children and left-right political standing. Due to the significance of the p-value, my null hypothesis is rejected.
For the relationship between my dependent variable (Q240: left-right political scale) and my ordinal independent variable (Q199: interest in politics), the coefficient was -0.005, the constant was 5.324, and the p-value was 0.931. The size was very small and almost non-existent. The sign was negative and the data was insignificant because of the large p-value, stating that the null hypothesis would turn out to be true around 93 out of 100 times. This subsequently indicates that the null hypothesis, therefore, cannot be rejected.
Based on my hypotheses, the signs of the coefficient of my nominal independent variable were in the correct direction. the signs of the coefficient of my ordinal independent variable were in the incorrect direction. I predicted both of them to be positive, meaning that the increased values of both of my independent variables would lead to increased values of my dependent variable. However, only my nominal independent variable (Q12) had a positive relationship with my dependent variable (Q240).
The size of my nominal independent variable (Q12) was large. Since the coefficient is larger (1.304), a one-unit increase in the independent variable would have a larger impact on the dependent variable (Q240). Since the independent variable has a binary measurement, I’m not able to determine the exact impact it has on the dependent variable. Conversely, the size of my ordinal independent variable (Q199) was small. For instance, if an individual identified themselves as a 5 on the left-right political scale, their interest in politics would only decrease their original spot on the left-right scale by -0.018.
In terms of significance, my nominally-measured independent variable (Q12) proved to be significant in terms of my dependent variable (Q240). Its p-value was 0.000, meaning that the null hypothesis — stating that there is no relationship between tolerance and respect as a value for children and standing on the left-right political scale — can be rejected. Q199 was insignificant because its p-value was 0.743, meaning that its null hypothesis — stating that there is no relationship between interest in politics and standing on the left-right political scale — couldn’t be rejected.
In reviewing the reliability of my hypotheses, only a specific independent variable had an effect on my dependent variable. The data shows that my nominally-measured independent variable (Q12: important child qualities: tolerance and respect for other people) affected my dependent variable (Q240: left-right political scale). This inference is determined by the majority of Americans who chose “important” in response to my nominally-measured independent variable being slightly more left-leaning than those who chose “not mentioned”. However, my ordinally-measured independent variable (Q199: interest in politics) had little to no effect on my dependent variable and an individual’s interest in politics had no effect on whether they were more inclined to be left-leaning or right-leaning.
I believe that my research could be improved by incorporating more substantial qualitative analysis rather than relying solely on quantitative analysis. Since I wasn’t able to go on campus and interview students in person due to the pandemic, I feel like I missed out on some helpful information. By incorporating qualitative analysis, I could’ve further explored the effects of my independent variables on my dependent variables in a variety. These included both statistics — from my quantitative results — and first-person opinions. As a result of my research findings, I devolved a few lingering questions. . First,, I wondered why political interest didn’t have a prominent statistical effect on an individual’s political standing. I also questioned the impact someone’s education on modern political issues would have on their political standing, and how tolerance and respect influence that standing.
Despite not proving my hypotheses, I believe that my results and the subsequent research I did has high generalizability. By looking farther into the importance of certain values or qualities, like tolerance and respect for other people, future researchers can explore which beliefs fully define left and right ideology. As proven in my research, those who are slightly more left-leaning believe that tolerance and respect for others is an important quality to teach children. This result sparked an interest to gain further insights into to see what other important child qualities define those with a more left-leaning ideology and how that would impact their stances on current issues. Further, I would be intrigued to know which values define those who are more right-leaning in ideology and why exactly they don’t see tolerance and respect as one of the most important values to teach children. Based on inherent values from both ideologies, exploring how ideology impacts various policy decisions could develop within future research.
Although there was no correlation between an interest in politics and an individual’s standing on the left-right political scale, exploring the relationship between someone’s interest in politics and other facets of their life could be done in future research. How an individual’s level of education or family life, for example, impacts their personal interest in politics could provide information about people’s voting habits. Tying in both of my independent variables would also lead to further exploration: what could be the effect of believing that tolerance and respect is an important quality to teach children on someone’s interest in politics? Although, I wasn’t able to fully prove my hypotheses, my research question itself and the research I’ve conducted can lead to a variety of other research. The generalizability of my research could reveal future social patterns and make our collective understanding of social science in relation to political interest, individual values, and political standing much stronger.
World Values Survey (2017-2020). Worldvaluessurvey.org
Jackson, Sam. 2019. “A Schema of Right-Wing Extremism in the United States.” International Center for Counter-Terrorism.
Jones, Seth, Catrina Doxsee, and Nicholas Harrington. 2020. “The Escalating Terrorism Problem in the United States.” Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Mangum, Maruice. 2013. “The Racial Underpinnings of Party Identification and Political Ideology.” Social Science Quarterly, 94(5), 1222-1244.
McClosky, Herbert and Dennis Chong. 1985. “Similarities and Differences between Left-Wing and Right-Wing Radicals.” British Journal of Political Science, 15(3), 329-363.
Proch, Jutta, Julia Elad-Strenger, and Thomas Kessler. 2019. “Liberalism and Conservatism, for a Change! Rethinking the Association Between Political Orientation and Relation to Social Change.” Political Psychology, 40(4), 877-903.
Also published on Medium.