New research published in the scientific journal Psychological Science has found that people who identify themselves as liberals tend to underestimate the amount of actual agreement among those who share their political views, while people who are conservative tend to overestimate agreement among those who share their views.
To test this, 300 different participants were given a series of political (ex: “I support unionization”) and non-political (ex: “I like juice”) statements, and were told to respond with either agreement or non-agreement. They were then asked how much they thought other people who shared their political views would agree with their answers to the previous questions; by doing this, researchers could see how much consensus each person thought there was within their ideology.
Liberals showed what the researchers call ‘truly false uniqueness,’ perceiving their beliefs as more divergent from the beliefs of other liberals than they actually were. Moderates and conservatives, on the other hand, showed evidence of ‘truly false consensus,’ perceiving their beliefs to be more similar to those of other members of their political group than they actually were.”
Scientists hypothesize this has to do with the fact that in general, liberal desire uniqueness more than conservatives.
Chadly Stern, a psychological scientists from NYU who led the research, hopes that these findings will help us to understand the emergence of social movements:
Liberal social movements might struggle to develop solidarity and formulate shared goals within their ranks, both because liberals want to maintain unique beliefs and because they underestimate the amount of agreement among their members… Conservative social movements might initially capitalize on perceiving agreement to galvanize their ranks, but their inaccurate perceptions could impair group progress when actual agreement is necessary.”