Conservative Politics and Prejudice

We can generally think of prejudice as negative attitudes toward individuals of a particular social group. While improvements have been made over time, prejudice is still very present in sport, negatively affecting people's participation opportunities, their access to various jobs, and even their health. Given these effects, we have spent considerable time seeking to understand factors associated with prejudice and ways to reduce it. Political orientation represents one such possible factor.

Last week, at the annual conference for the North American Society for Sport Management, I presented a paper focusing o the relationship between political orientation and prejudice. You can read the abstract here. I sought to (1) understand the relationship between political orientation and prejudice; (2) determine whether political orientation was more strongly associated with some kinds of prejudice, such as toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, relative to others, such as racial minorities; and (3) whether having friends who are different from you can help reduce those effects. 

I collected data from three samples, two of which included students in physical activity and sport classes, and one of which included working staff members at a university. I analyzed the data for each study and then combined the results using a technique called meta-analysis to see the overall effect. Across these analyses, I observed the following:

  1. Political conservatism holds a positive, moderate association with various forms of prejudice. Thus, all else equal, the more conservative one's ideology, the more likely that person is to express prejudice. 
  2. But there is more to the story. The relationship between politics and prejudice differs based on the target. Conservatism is generally not associated with explicit forms of racial prejudice (i.e., people saying they are prejudiced toward racial minorities). On the other hand, it holds a strong, positive association with explicit prejudice toward LGBT individuals. This is true for students and working adults. 
  3. Friends with lesbians affects this relationship. The more lesbian friends people had, the less likely they were to express prejudice toward lesbians, even if they were conservative. For people with few lesbian friends, political conservatism was strongly associated with prejudice. 

These findings are consistent with Jost and colleagues' work, which has shown that political conservatives, relative to progressives, are less likely to question systems of inequality, have less tolerance for ambiguity, and are more likely to express prejudice toward people different from them. The findings also support a point Richard Florida has made, suggesting that prejudice toward LGBT individuals is still largely socially permissible in some settings, while the social acceptability of other prejudices has decreased. Finally, the findings contribute to robust evidence showing that friendships with different people can help reduce prejudice. We have observed as much in our own scholarship

In short, the findings offer a complex view of conservatism and prejudice. The relationship is multidimensional and affected by a number of factors. As we continue to study prejudice in sport, we will seek other ways prejudice can be reduced, irrespective of one's political orientation.