A group of Tufts University researchers recently conducted a study about the appeal of what they call "outrage-based" political shows hosted by such polarizing figures as Rush Limbaugh on the right and Rachel Maddow on the left. They conclude that the reason people gravitate toward such fare is that it offers them a form of comfort and a "safe haven."
According to an article in Pacific Standard magazine, which reported on the study, when a person finds a host whose show lines up with his or her own ideology, "It's a way of feeling like part of a community that shares your values (or, perhaps, prejudices)."
The researchers also observed that conservative shows attract far more listeners than liberal shows do and wondered why. The reason may be that right-leaning fans are more likely to feel condemned by society because of their politics.
In conversation with conservatives, liberals risk being called naïve or willfully blind to potential threats — not very pleasant labels, but not especially damaging ones, either. In contrast, conservatives risk accusations of racism — and “being called a racist carries a particular cultural force,” the researchers write.
“The experience of being perceived as racist loomed large in the mind of conservative fans (we interviewed),” they report. Every single conservative respondent raised the issue of being called racist, and did so without even being asked.
As Pacific Standard points out, there are "voluminous amounts of psychological research suggesting a link between social conservatism and racism," but why do even the most liberal among us often equate "Republican" with "racist"? As talk-show host Bill Maher likes to say, "If you're racist, you're probably a Republican."
The key word in that statement isn't "racist" or "Republican" but "probably." But even if someone is showing signs of having a racist mindset, name-calling is unlikely to lead to a constructive conversation — and very few would even admit to being racists. Plus, if, by calling them racists, we're only sending them back to the "safe haven" of the shows where their ideology is reinforced, maybe it would be more productive to use another word. How about just "Republican"?
Read more at Pacific Standard.
Jozen Cummings is the author and creator of the popular relationship blog Until I Get Married, which is currently in development for a television series with Warner Bros. He also hosts a weekly podcast with WNYC about Empire called Empire Afterparty, is a contributor at VerySmartBrothas.com and works at Twitter as an editorial curator. Follow him on Twitter.