Whining Liberals or Complaining Conservatives?

This column originally appeared in The Observer magazine/Guardian online

 Right-wingers love to complain about whining liberals. Have they got a point? Or is it actually self-entitled conservatives who are more likely to complain when things go wrong? Let’s find out…

How likely are you to complain to an official body (e.g., the Financial Ombudsman or Ofcom) if you are unfairly treated by your bank or broadband provider?

(a) Never; I’d just try and resolve it with the company or live with the bad service. (b) Pretty unlikely; it would have to be something very serious. (c) Reasonably likely; if the company didn’t sort it out, I’d usually take it further. (d) Very likely; I’d never let a company get away with treating me unfairly.

Now, what does this say about your politics. Well, we believe the findings of a new study (conducted by Kiju Jung at the University of Illinois), if you said (c) or (d), you are more likely – on average – to have liberal views (or, at least, to live in a largely liberal-leaning area). If you said (a) or (b), you are more likely – on average – to have conservative views (or, at least, to live in a conservative-leaning area). Jung and his team found a link between complaints to consumer finance and communications (and also traffic safety) watchdogs, and voting districts, with more complaints coming from liberal-voting areas (after controlling, of course, for measures of social class and income). To find out why, the researchers conducted a questionnaire study asking directly about people’s political beliefs, likelihood of complaining, and their reasons for (not) doing so. As well as replicating the link between conservatism and sucking-it-up, this part of the study found that conservatives were more likely to believe that existing systems were right and appropriate, even when these systems left them personally disadvantaged.


A fully referenced version of this article is available at benambridge.com. Order Psy-Q by Ben Ambridge (Profile Books, £8.99) for £6.99 at bookshop.theguardian.com


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