Hypocritical Flip-Flop, or Courageous Evolution? When Leaders Change Their Moral Minds
How do audiences react to leaders who change their opinion after taking moral stances? We propose that people believe moral stances are stronger commitments, compared with pragmatic stances; we therefore explore whether and when audiences believe those commitments can be broken. We find that audiences believe moral commitments should not be broken, and thus that they deride as hypocritical leaders who claim a moral commitment and later change their views. Moreover, they view them as less effective and less worthy of support. Although participants found a moral mind changer especially hypocritical when they disagreed with the new view, the effect persisted even among participants who fully endorsed the new view. We draw these conclusions from analyses and meta-analyses of 15 studies (total N = 5,552), using recent statistical advances to verify the robustness of our findings. In several of our studies, we also test for various possible moderators of these effects; overall we find only 1 promising finding: some evidence that 2 specific justifications for moral mind changes—citing a personally transformative experience, or blaming external circumstances rather than acknowledging opinion change—help moral leaders appear more courageous, but no less hypocritical. Together, our findings demonstrate a lay belief that moral views should be stable over time; they also suggest a downside for leaders in using moral framings.