One answer to this can be found in some experimental research that my old advisor, John Zaller, described at a panel at the APSA conference. As he noted, recent research shows that there are notable psychological differences between liberals and conservatives. To wit:
- Conservatives have a heightened startle response relative to liberals. Conservatives react more sharply to loud noises.
- Conservatives are more likely to register physical disgust at socially questionable behavior (such as sharing a spoon) than liberals are.
- Conservatives are less comfortable in a crowd of people than liberals are. Conservatives are more comfortable where there's a clear social order.
- When subjects are shown a video of a dog morphing into a cat, liberals are quicker than conservatives to call it a cat. Conservatives are slower to acknowledge that a change is occurring.
Meanwhile, look at what's happened in the country just in the last year.
- A very sharp economic downturn has put many out of work and created uncertainty for many more.
- The financial industry basically collapsed, undermining a great deal of the perceived structure of the American economy.
- The country is under unified Democratic rule for the first time in more than a decade.
- Gay marriage, which seemed like a joke a decade ago, is now legal in a handful of states and is becoming more widespread by the year.
- The president's name is Barack Hussein Obama.