Providing Public Assistance: Cognitive and Motivational Processes Underlying Liberal and Conservative Policy Preferences

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Abstract

Previous research in a wide variety of policy domains (e.g., azidothymidine for AIDS patients, low-income housing) has indicated that under no scarcity, liberals tend to help all claimants for assistance, whereas conservatives withhold assistance from people who are personally responsible for their predicament (Skitka & Tetlock, 1992). Three studies explore 6 explanations for this robust finding: deterrence, self-interest, punitiveness, mindlessness, value orientation, and avoidance of trade-off reasoning. The findings shed light on both the cognitive strategies and motivational priorities of liberals and conservatives. It was discovered that liberals are not mindlessly egalitarian, but try to avoid socially awkward value trade-offs that require placing monetary values on lives. By contrast, conservatives are motivated to punish violators of social norms (e.g., deviations from traditional norms of sexuality or responsible behavior) and to deter free riders.

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