Do Prejudiced Thoughts Influence Individuals’ Political Behaviour?

In light of an unprecedented electoral success of right-wing populist parties in comparison with that of historical legacies of fascism parties in Great Britain and Germany, there have been lots of conjectures that have sown the seeds of an ambiguous political scenario.

In this sense, researchers at University of Oxford, University of Manchester, UK, and University of Bergen, Norway, have investigated to what extent party preferences are influenced by the antiprejudice norm. The study (‘The Better Angels of Our Nature: How the Antiprejudice Norm Affects Policy and Party Preferences in Great Britain and Germany’), which can be found at the Midwest Political Science Association, starts wondering ‘why anti-immigrant sentiments have not resulted in more votes for those traditional extreme-right parties than for right-wing parties’; and, more generally, ‘what factors could determine the impact of anti-immigrant sentiments on political attitudes and behaviour’.

To put the study into context, the team of researchers propounds a hypothesis—by calibrating existing theoretical approaches—for answering their research question and conduct three different empirical studies to test such hypothesis. The three studies break down into two quantitative, experimental surveys and a third survey consisting on a conventional regression on political preferences. The two experimental surveys collect categorical data in Great Britain from the British Comparative Campaign Analysis Project (BCCAP) of 2009—sample size is 1,405 participants—and the Continuous Monitoring Survey (CMS) of 2010—sample size is 945 participants. The third study relies on data of the CCAP conducted in both Germany and Great Britain in 2010. Additionally, the probability sampling was intentionally constructed to be demographically representative within the chosen countries.

The research design is remarkably achieved. As the research team of this study propounds a hypothesis with the aim of answering their research problem, the research question could be considered a combination of those two, which is inherent to correlational studies such as this—so under this postulate, there is no doubt that the chosen methodology matches perfectly with the essence of their research question. The reason why centres on the fact of choosing an inquiry able to test that hypothesis and hence potentially explaining that question. Incidentally, a characteristic strength of quantitative inquiries involves their accuracy in providing numerical data and statistical causality, leading to be the most suitable for testing theories and hence generalising the findings.

A strand of critics of the quantitative paradigm might argue that a potential weakness of such inquiries might be that researchers have a greater chance to omit important causal factors because of their fierce focus on the theory and hypotheses testing—also known as the ‘confirmation bias’. However, in this case such critiques would draw empty arguments as there does exist so much known about the pattern under investigation and thereby the fact of calibrating a set of related, existing theories to match the concrete, pursued context of this study would entail a sophisticated methodological strategy for a quality hypothesis generating process.

Furthermore, the team of researchers at Oxford, Manchester and Bergen generalises the empirical findings of the study by showing to what extent the latter demonstrates the influence of individuals´ motivation to control prejudiced thoughts upon their political behaviour and further suggesting that their model could address other related long-standing problems. In this line, the representativeness of their probability sampling supports the success of this generalisation and the proximity of the influence under investigation with other long-standing problems brings about plausible new avenues in research. Thus, the set of empirical findings drawn from this study does entail a notable nomothetic research—as a general causation pattern robustly holds despite the context and situation.

Finally, this study does not only demonstrate the fact that majority-group individuals´ motivation to control prejudiced thoughts influences their political behaviour, but also to what extent this influence is substantiated in the political scenario. Besides, it shows that individuals with greater motivation to control prejudices are more likely to make pro-immigrant/pro-minority political choices as well as discriminatory and antiminority political choices are less common insofar as the antiprejudice norm is put more clearly at stake in the context in which the political preference is presented. Thus, the insight reveals that both the sensitivity of individuals towards the antiprejudice norm and the contextual cues are positively associated with treating asylum seekers equally.

The added-value that this insight entails for political parties might be a potential tool for setting discourse and manifesto strategies within fierce political campaigns, which arises many questions. Indeed, to what extent are we free from our unconscious stimuli? What unconscious processes do manage our acts? And, why not, how much these unconscious influences could be manipulated?

Enrique Muñoz-Salido
Enrique Muñoz-Salido
Enrique works in the tech industry, computer software, in the City, London. His interests lie at crossroads of human behavior and software. Enrique is an Oxford Masters graduate, Talentia scholarship.