Politicians Are Asking the Wrong Questions

I have just been reading Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind in which he tries to explain how seemingly sensible people can disagree so profoundly about politics.

The answer, he argues, can be traced to a difference in our moral foundations. We all have the same moral foundations (care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity) but we place a different emphasis on each. For example, left-wingers tend to value care and fairness, whereas social conservatives tend to prioritise loyalty and authority.

People also interpret the foundations differently, the classic example being the distinction between negative liberty (‘freedom from’) and positive liberty (‘freedom to’). This diversity is caused primarily by genetic factors, although experience also plays a part.

Haidt’s insight suggests that politicians have been asking the public the wrong questions. Instead of asking people what they think about particular policies or particular people, they should be asking them questions which reveal their moral foundations. Their answers could then be used to predict in advance what policies they will like or dislike. This could be done using a simple questionnaire. Here is an example I came up with to test how someone interprets fairness.

The way someone answers this question will have implications for their views on taxation, welfare, market intervention, public sector pay, a whole range of policy areas. Here is another example designed to test how people perceive ‘loyalty’.

Again, people’s answers to this question will affect their views on international aid, asylum, military intervention, NATO, a huge cross-section of the political syllabus.

By posing these questions to representatives of key demographics and then asking them to rank their responses in order of importance, we could create a map of each group’s unique moral framework which could be used to design policies that will appeal to people at an emotional level.

Given that most people vote on how they feel rather than what they think (another of Haidt’s insights), this would seem to be an enormously powerful tool.

What do you think? Have politicians underestimated the importance of understanding peoples’ morality? Let me know on Twitter. Why not also try some of my other articles such as ‘The Top Ten British Prime Ministers’ or ‘Why I Voted Leave’. Feel free to follow me if you like what you see.

The Individualist

6th August 2016