3650 Rue McTavish
Montréal, QC H3A 1Y2
Elizabeth Suhay (American University)
How Americans on the Left and Right Explain Socioeconomic Inequality
You can learn more about Professor Suhay by clicking here.
Where and When: Friday, November 16, 2018 from 3:00 to 5:00pm. Room 404, Thomson House, McGill University.
Abstract: Researchers increasingly find that Americans on the left and right disagree not only about policy prescriptions but also about politically relevant factual beliefs. In this talk, I argue that there is a stark divide between the political left and right in the U.S. with respect to causal attributions for socioeconomic inequality that is both under appreciated and under theorized. Drawing on data from two original, U.S.-representative surveys, I first discuss the relative popularity of different explanations—work ethic, innate intelligence, discrimination, structural inequalities, and group culture—for why some people and social groups have less income and wealth than others. I then show that the left (Democrats, liberals, Clinton/Sanders supporters) and right (Republicans, conservatives, Trump supporters) diverge in their acceptance of these explanations, with discrimination (favoured by the left) and work ethic (favoured by the right) standing out as most divisive. Finally, I explore whether these attributional differences are due to political ideology or coalitional differences. Some have argued that left-right attributional differences stem from fundamentally different value orientations: those on the left seek to justify social welfare by blaming society for economic inequality, whereas those on the right seek to justify limited government intervention in the economy by blaming individuals. This conclusion is premature, however, given that the marginalized groups at the center of these investigations (e.g., black Americans, women) are associated with the political left. The left may “excuse” those with fewer resources, and the right may “blame” them, due to group affinity (or lack thereof), not ideology. Therefore, I also ask participants to explain why some right-leaning groups have fallen behind relative to others: rural (vs. urban) Americans; white (vs. Asian) Americans; people in red (vs. blue) states. Does the right’s tendency to blame people for falling behind diminish when the groups in question are political and social allies? Likewise, are those on the left less sympathetic toward these groups? Such malleability would imply that causal attributions for inequality, while not necessarily insincere, are rooted more in social identities than ideology.
Video of the presentation:
This series is sponsored by the Inter-university Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship, which is funded by the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture (FRQSC).