The Psychology of Being Non-aligned

A psychological study on partisanship that shows how loyalty to the group trumps the value of ideas has interesting implications for those aiming to persuade an electorate or a bloc.

Appeals to the group membership work because undecideds, moderates, or nonaligned independents may be masking their partisanship:

Brian Nosek is a psychologist at the University of Virginia. Along with graduate student Carlee Beth Hawkins, Nosek studies why people don’t always do what they say they want to do — why there is a gap in many aspects of human behavior between what people intend to do and what they actually do.

Nosek and Hawkins believed this disconnect explains why many independents arent independent when it comes to voting.

The psychologists used a test that purports to measure peoples inner attitudes, including ones they dont know they have.”

The test is called the Implicit Association Test,” Nosek said. “And its been used for a variety of different topics — trying to measure peoples racial attitudes, their anxieties about spiders, their self-esteem. In our case, we tried to measure how strongly people associate themselves with Democrats or Republicans.”

The idea behind the test is simple. If you are a Republican deep down, youll quickly categorize things that are Republican with things about yourself, because you identify with the Republican Party. Youll be slower to group things connected to the Democratic Party with things about yourself. You can try the test for yourself here.

via Are Independents Just Partisans In Disguise? : Its All Politics : NPR.


12 thoughts on “The Psychology of Being Non-aligned”

  1. I tried the test, hoping it would tell me a little more about my “hidden” affiliations. The only results I got were on implicit racial preference. While at first that didn’t seem to have much to do with the theme of this blog, “Global Diplomacy,” as I thought more about it I realized that it could be very relevant. After all, the workings of the UN and other global organizations require interaction between, well, global people. While we don’t admit to any intentional racial bias, we could subconsciously side more frequently with those of similar ethnicity.

    What do you think?

    I quickly searched for a source that would give me some results from that test on the percentage of whites with implicit racial preference, but haven’t found any yet. However, I did find this huge paper on explicit and implicit racial attitudes:

  2. I would like to go back to the years shortly after the Declaration of Independence was signed and see how political parties were back then. Since then, we have obviously become a two-party nation. Two-party systems always lead to polarization as parties try to seperate and distinguish themselves from one another in hopes of gaining a majority of people. As they polarize, however, there is a growing number of people who vote for one party simply because it most closely shares their views, even when their real beliefs dont fully align with it. When this happens, a third party is given room to form in the middle of the two parties and steal votes from them. I don’t think it would be unreasonable to think that sometime in the somewhat near future a third party could rise up and make our country a three-party system.

    1. I agree with your point about how many people who align with a political party only do so because it mostly lines up with their views. When I first turned 18 I registered as an independent because neither major party aligned with my views and I was turned off by the partisanship. Eventually I registered with a party because it aligned with a lot of my views but also I had to in order to participate in caucuses and primaries and work to nominate candidates that do align with my views.
      It will be interesting to see if a major third party ever develops in the US. If the major parties try to force voters to one side by taking strong stances, this is happening more and more now, this is a distinct possibility. There would be some interesting consequences if this happened. Here is a Reuters blog post talking about the benefits of not having a two party system in the US.

  3. I have thought along the same lines as well Logan for sometime, but something always keeps me thinking that things aren’t going to change. I think a lot of that belief has to do with the consistent 50-50 split vote and the lack of unity among the “independents.” The US is a winner take all system, and while the two parties are dominating the political playground, independents could feel a. like their vote doesn’t count enough to elect an independent or b. that independent doesn’t believe what I believe either. One statement that I hear thrown around during election time is, “the best of two evils.”

    I thought it was fun to roam around on both parties’ websites.

  4. This seems to be an interesting find. I think a big aspect of this discovery could relate to group psychology and the need for reinforcement of ideas. In one of my political science classes we often talk about how people seek to hear news that appeals to their values. I think this goes beyond news consumption and that people generally try to surround themselves with others who espouse similar beliefs. Hundreds of thousands of organizations around the world seek to bring people with common values, interests, and beliefs together, and political parties are no different.

    When it comes to people not doing the things they say they’ll do, I think this is just a fact of life. When it comes to politics, voters may choose not to support a certain candidate during an election for many reasons: they may not agree with specific ideas that a candidate has that deviate from the typical party platform, they might fear what their friends and family members will think if they support a certain candidate, or they might think a candidate who isn’t affiliated with their political party might be better for their country than one who is. As far as undecided voters go, they may not affiliate themselves with a party because they don’t know how to categorize their inner beliefs in a way that is synonymous with the beliefs of political parties they’ve found. Others may just be apathetic and don’t feel a need or desire to align themselves with a party.

    Here’s an interesting article entitled “The Psychology of Politics”:

  5. I think I have been guilty of being a dependent Independent. I’ve identified myself as a slightly conservative. For the most part, though, I am right along Republican party lines, except on certain points. The Pew Research Center released a Political Typology quiz and comparison in 2011 ( that confirmed my thoughts. But I think a lot of voters say they’re independent due to the intense bipartisanship from the two-party system. There are a lot of flaws to each party, and a lot of disagreement between the two that it seems to have gridlocked the government at times. It’s easier to transcend the given parties and declare independence. Still, even though the article was questioning whether a focus on these independents is worth the effort given implicit thinking, I think they still can be. Independents regard themselves as moderates, tied between two party lines. Since one of the candidates will be president of the entire nation, the most moderate one who can appear to bring together the two parties seems the most likely and likeable, and independents can in a way indicate which issues can be refined.

  6. I think the temptation today is to be independent to appear, sophisticated, important and trendy. What better way to stand out in the political banter than to appear aloof and undecided? I think it’s for this reason that many of the voters today, despite their actual partisan leanings, claim to be independent. It really is a scary thought that very often the vote comes down to those independents that the candidates try to sway- most of these independent voters appear to be poorly educated on either candidate, rather than well educated and undecided on both candidates. The independent voter has started to shift away from the moderate who can’t decided, and toward the uneducated who’d rather not decide.

  7. I sometimes am frustrated with many who speak down to those who know their party affiliation. Of course there are many on both sides who just “eat from the trough” as the interviewee stated, but I don’t feel all of us are. I am a Democrat, I am fairly liberal. However, will I always vote Democrat? No, I do vote for who I agree with and who I think can run things better. Sometime a Republican fits that mold. However, my values fit that of the Democratic party. There is nothing wrong with admitting you side with one or the other, it just shows that you know who you are and are comfortable. I feel there is a problem if you are Republican, and you watch FOX news all the time, or Democrat and watch MSNBC. That is where you get a slanted uneducated view of the issues. I say get your news from sources such as NPR, which will give a balanced view. Many who become independents say, “Both parties are the same anyways.” No they are not, the parties are different, the politicians however, many times can be the same since they are all politicians. Honestly though, I have met very few true independents. I have many friends who state they are, but will always side with one or the other. My thought are to stop lying about what you are and come out and embrace you values, weather they be conservative or liberal, and if you are truly independent then good, embrace that as well.

  8. As human beings it is hard to be completely non-bias on a subject. Our brains come with natural predispositions that automatically make us decide in a certain manner. However, over a life time the brain is structured to absorb, change, and create. Both are valid observations in my opinion. Both point to the fact that we are naturally opinionated. Whether those opinions were ingrained within us since birth or whether we have acquired those opinions they are still there. Therefore we as people are naturally going to lean a little bit to the left or a little bit to the right. To make a metaphor: have you ever tried to stand perfectly straight? Naturally you are going to sway a little bit to the left or the right, even if it goes unnoticed to the human eye. We are the same in politics. We will naturally lean a little bit to the left or the right, even if it goes unnoticed to our conscious state.
    Bellow is an article by the psychologist Cyndi Sarnoff-Ross on the psychology of opinion.

  9. It makes sense that when someone is independent his or her views still tend to line up with one party or another. I’ve seen some people bend over backwards in (poor) attempts to justify the actions of their party. There are a lot of strong correlations between religion and culture and the political parties (as evidenced by knowing who will win the majority of electoral votes in given states long before the candidates are even known).

    That having been said, with increasing diversity of opinions there is likely to be increasing diversy of political affiliation. I have heard of a few people who claim they “vote entrepreneur” as if it were its own party While we’re a long way away from having a viable challenge for the presidency from a third party, I would like to see the statistics of how many people voted straight ticket in previous generations vs. today. (I looked, not hard, but couldn’t find anything.)

  10. I see this kind of thinking in many people. They state they are moderate or independent even though in their heart they know they lean one way or the other. But instead of taking that side they opt to pick middle ground. Why? Because they want to appear to remain open minded. They do not want to be seen as being so hard lined that they could not actually think about voting for an individual from the opposite party. An example comes to my mind. A recent study of an internet dating site showed that 90% of people answered that race did not matter when looking for a potential partner. However, a closer look reveals that it does. Those who answered the survey also had their “requests” and “responses” to inquiries analyzed. Turns out, that about 85% of the 90% requested/responded only to people of their race. So what is the story? People did not want to look racist. It’s not that they are racist, but that the individuals in the survey tended to favor their own race as their preference. But, since other individuals could see their answer (namely whether or not race mattered), people were given an incentive to say it did not matter as to not appear racist.

    Another example, the Time recently ran an article on candidates lying and the effect it has on voters. Turns out that when your party leader lies, you disregard it. When the other party leader lies, you emphasize it.
    it is the article associated with the front page of the current Times Magazine.

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