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I have never been to a Trump or Clinton rally, but if you watch footage from both events, you’ll notice that the differences between the two couldn’t be greater.
At one, you’ll see Trump impersonators, free helicopter rides for children and even elephants roaming around with “Make America Great Again” painted on their sides.
In between chants to “build a wall--kill them all,” you’ll hear promises to take the country back to better times, when America was truly great.
Meanwhile, at the other rally, a more somber tone prevails in the atmosphere. Instead of circus-like entertainment, you’ll hear policy details and talk of unity, diversity and compromise.
Republicans on one side, Democrats on the other. One is from Mars and the other from Venus.
This election, more than any other in recent history, has put on full display the differences between American conservatives and liberals and, if anything, widened the already abysmal gap between the two.
But the visceral animosity between these two ideological groups is not so much about differences in rationale--just spend a few minutes reading Facebook comments to see what I’m talking about--but more about differences in the way we respond emotionally to situations.
In the words of David Hume, reason is merely “a slave of the passions,” and for those who think their election-day decisions will be governed more by logic than emotions, just ask yourself the following questions from Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind:
If you’re like most people, you probably cringed while reading these questions and felt instinctively inclined to label these acts as disgusting and immoral. But let me ask you, did you consider the logical reasons for doing so before making such a judgment? Probably not. The reasons were simply afterthoughts to justify our emotions--not the other way around. In fact, most people can't even come up with a logical explanation for their reactions to these bizarre scenarios.
Once we’ve disabused ourselves of the notion that we’re primarily rational creatures, let’s ask ourselves, What triggers these emotions? Where do they come from? And why do we have such disparate emotional reactions to the same message?
Many studies have concluded that the answer lies in the brain.
Research on the relationship between political orientations and brain structure found that liberals respond better to “complexity, ambiguity and novelty” and are also more inclined to suppress their instinctual reactions to conflict.
Meanwhile, it was found that self-described conservatives have larger amygdalas, which is the region of the brain associated with emotional responses, disgust and fear conditioning.
Their greater sensitivity to emotional stimuli in comparison to liberals was confirmed by this study, which found that conservatives exhibited heightened physiological responses (such as rapid blinking) to shocking noises and threatening imagery.
And in yet another investigation, researchers concluded that while risk-taking behavior was identical in both liberal and conservative subjects, the latter’s amygdalas fired at a faster rate in comparison to those of liberals, indicating that they might be more influenced by emotions when making decisions.
Before conservatives are quick to cry “liberal bias”--as it seems like these studies are portraying them as a bunch of paranoid, gun-toting people--research also seems to indicate that conservatives enjoy a “higher degree of happiness and life satisfaction” in comparison with liberals. Also, it’s interesting to note that this study suggests that liberals are actually more neurotic than conservatives. Researchers believe that conservatives’ propensity for stable, lifelong relationships and a strong religious faith may account for these differences.
And for those who believe studies can be manipulated to reflect almost any conclusion, this study attained 83% accuracy in predicting individuals’ political beliefs by simply reviewing their brain scans.
After looking at somewhat conclusive evidence that the brains of liberals and conservatives function differently, the next question that naturally comes to mind is: Do politics change a person’s brain or does the brain determine a person’s political leanings?
The answer is both. Darren Schreiber, a neuroscientist at the University of Exeter, believes that, given the plasticity of our brains, the direction of influence flows in both directions. People live life, have new experiences and, in the process, modify their views, which affects the way the brain functions.
But the type of brain a person is born with is also a determining factor in the kind of views he or she will develop later in life.
This study published in 2006 in the Journal of Research in Personality found that a set of personality traits established for each political orientation allowed them to accurately predict which set of political beliefs a group of preschoolers would adopt 20 years later in their adulthood.
Those who turned out to be conservative in their twenties were described as quiet, dependent, organized, fearful and submissive preschoolers. Meanwhile, children who became liberals in their adulthood were more expressive, gregarious, independent, energetic and assertive.
While it may sound like introverted and anxious personalities tend to be more conservative, there are also other external factors involved. Biology doesn’t account for everything and actual viewpoints and values certainly do have a role in determining ideology.
As novelty-seeking as particular individuals may be, if their upbringing designed them to respect cultural norms, authority, religion and family ties, then chances are they might remain conservatives for the rest of their lives.
On the other hand, liberals see the world as a much less threatening place, so they believe that:
Enlightened by a newfound understanding of the deep-seated biological differences between conservatives and liberals, it should be at least a bit easier for individuals on opposite sides of the spectrum to humanize each other and regard the other side as the yin to their yang--rather than the bane of America as we know it.
But that might be wishful thinking.
For now, what we can do is continue to educate ourselves and others on the motivations behind what we believe.
At Visme, we often like to make sense of thorny issues through data visualizations, so we decided to look into the differences between Trump and Clinton supporters and visualize them through a series of infographics and charts.
Using the social profiling platform Demographics Pro, we were able to generate audience profiles of users composing tweets with the hashtags #MakeAmericaGreatAgain and #ImWithHer. By narrowing the results to tweets with positive sentiment, we were able to come up with a demographics report of Trump and Clinton supporters who are active on Twitter.
Here is what we found:
As expected, a greater percentage of Hillary supporters are women, while a majority of Trump’s fans are male.
Hillary’s supporters are younger and are comprised by a greater percentage of singles without children.
In line with the relatively younger Hillary fan base, tweeps using #ImWithHer registered a slightly lower median income in comparison with Trump fans.
A greater percentage of Trump supporters are white, while Hillary fans register a slightly higher percentage of Hispanic and African-American supporters.
As expected, a greater percentage of Trump supporters are Christians, while more than two-thirds of Hillary fans are Jewish. Interestingly enough, there are more Muslims tweeting positive messages with the hashtag #MakeAmericaGreatAgain than #ImWIthHer.
A large percentage of fans in both cases are based in New York.
While pro-Hillary tweeps are largely comprised of authors, writers, teachers and health workers, many of Trump’s supporters are senior managers, veterans, entrepreneurs and realtors.
Trump’s fans are interested in sports, business, pets and family life. Meanwhile, Hillary supporters are interested in charitable causes, cooking, health issues, reading and travel.
As expected, Hillary supporters have a greater affinity for brands like Starbucks, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Target, CNN and Netflix. Meanwhile, Trump supporters like Chick-Fil-A, Marlboro, Weekly Standard, Drudge Report and, ironically, On the Border.
Did you find any of this surprising or revealing? What do you think about our analysis of liberal and conservatives?
We would love to hear your comments and reactions. Don’t hesitate to share your opinion with us in the comments section below.
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