Are liberals more tolerant than conservatives? Ask anyone in academia and the likely answer you will hear is an unqualified “yes.” After all, this is an article of faith amongst true believers and is actually backed up by a number of studies.
However, most of these studies only looked at conservative targets of intolerance and didn’t look at liberal targets of intolerance. Again, if you are going to study differences between groups--actually measure differences between groups.
Nonetheless, this general pattern of research findings has been called the “prejudice gap” (Chambers, Schlenker, & Collisson, 2013; Sibley & Duckitt, 2008). However, along comes a paper by Mark Brandt and his colleagues (2014) published in Current Directions of Psychological Science. They argue, gasp gasp, that each group is intolerant of certain groups and to show this they produced this awesome graph.
As you can see, when asked to pick out their least favorite groups, conservatives generally choose liberals, democrats, radicals, gays, feminists, ect. I know. I don’t like it either but look at the other quadrant. Liberals really don’t like conservatives, republicans, Christians, business people, whites and men..... oh, and the elderly.
I think we can safely do away with the idea that liberals are tolerant across the board and don’t harbor any negative feelings about other groups. Indeed, I’m going to speculate that if liberals were presented with more options of groups to dislike, their numbers would grow. We could add, for example, gun owners, rednecks, and conservative professors.
Let me also make a personal claim and an appeal for principled tolerance. People who know me typically are stunned to find that my social networks are very diverse. I’m good friends with the fundamentalist Christians who live across the street from me at the same time I’m good friends with my barber--a homosexual black guy. I know thousands of addicts, motorcycle gang members, dudes named “dirt,” people on welfare, wealthy doctors and business people, hunters, environmentalists, military members..........and folks who are just eccentric, talented, and creative. I find individuals interesting and I enjoy learning about their lives.
If you wish to grow as a person, you have to do things that make you uncomfortable. Sometimes this entails confronting your biases and seeking out people who are not like you. If you wish to understand people, it helps to talk to them. To be clear, I’m not talking about accepting any form of destructive behavior in the name of tolerance. What I’m talking about is learning to appreciate what others have to teach you. You can learn from anybody--even those you don’t like.
I’ll hop off my soapbox now.
John Paul Wright and Matt DeLisi
Professors of Crime and Criminology