In a previous post, I refer to a study entitled: The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind: How Self-Interest Shapes Our Opinions and Why We Don’t Admit It (2014).
The book features a couple of paragraphs (p. 207) that I am pleased to share with you:
The causality is even harder to sort through when it comes to “values” and political “personalities” as they relate to policy opinions . This is particularly true given the DERP Syndrome tendencies we discussed in chapter 1. We don’t know that it’s possible to come up with sufficient strategies to figure out which way the causal arrows point when researchers use a set of survey items on discriminatory policy views to “explain” another set of survey items on discriminatory policy views, or when they use a set of generally worded views about income equality to “explain” another set of views about policies that advance income equality. At any rate, noting a big correlation between two sets of survey items with substantively equivalent content should never be the end point of a scientific inquiry. It’s like tethering one hot-air balloon to another and hoping neither floats away.
Indeed, part of the attraction of approaches focused on demographics and interests is that they provide a way out of what are otherwise largely circular discussions. Reducing circularity has a lot to do with what attracts us to evolutionary psychology, economics, and related perspectives. Much of psychology, perhaps understandably, focuses on purely psychological motives. People conform out of a need for conformity. People seek approval out of a need for self-esteem. In contrast, evolutionary and economic approaches are more likely to focus on people’s desires to achieve tangible outcomes in their lives. Evolutionary approaches, in particular, seek to tie these desires back to something authentically fundamental – the mechanical tendency within populations of replicators to replace over time less-replicating variants with more replicating variants. This line of argument constitutes perhaps the only genuine proposal to tie off the “why” questions when it comes to goals and behaviors. At some point in the analysis, the train of “whys” ends with the ultimate (secular) Prime Mover.
Demographics and interests
As the authors note, demographics and interests don’t explain everything, but they do explain a lot. I look forward to reading more recent work (this book dates from 2014) concerning the topics at hand.
In this regard, a study that comes to mind at once is The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds (2017)