Past-Focused Temporal Communication Overcomes Conservatives’ Resistance to Liberal Political Ideas

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Abstract

Nine studies and a meta-analysis test the role of past-focused temporal communication in reducing conservatives’ disagreement with liberal political ideas. We propose that conservatives are more prone to warm, affectionate, and nostalgic feelings for past society. Therefore, they are more likely to support political ideas—including those expressing liberal values—that can be linked to a desirable past state (past focus), rather than a desirable future state (future focus) of society. Study 1 supports our prediction that political conservatives are more nostalgic for the past than liberals. Building on this association, we demonstrate that communicating liberal ideas with a past focus increases conservatives’ support for leniency in criminal justice (Studies 2a and 2b), gun control (Study 3), immigration (Study 4), social diversity (Study 5), and social justice (Study 6). Communicating messages with a past focus reduced political disagreement (compared with a future focus) between liberals and conservatives by between 30 and 100% across studies. Studies 5 and 6 identify the mediating role of state and trait nostalgia, respectively. Study 7 shows that the temporal communication effect only occurs under peripheral (and not central) information processing. Study 8 shows that the effect is asymmetric; a future focus did not increase liberals’ support for conservative ideas. A mixed-effects meta-analysis across all studies confirms that appealing to conservatives’ nostalgia with a past-focused temporal focus increases support for liberal political messages (Study 9). A large portion of the political disagreement between conservatives and liberals appears to be disagreement over style, and not content of political issues.

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