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Fear Games: Why the Right Loves to Keep You Scared

The Washington Post had a great article yesterday about a research study that showed that conservatives and liberals don’t just vote differently, but they think in completely different ways as well.

Conservatives, the article explains, are “conscientious,” meaning they tend to want to stay within a defined set of rules, a comfort zone, and are disturbed by anything that takes them out of this zone.

Liberals, on the other hand, are more “open” thinkers, eager to try new things, accepting of new ideas.

When you view the political landscape through this lens, it becomes abundantly clear what political operatives are doing and why.

Conservative political operatives are always pointing toward threats to the comfort zone of their constituents.

Liberal operatives point out the threats to a more open lifestyle.

This is the heart of political psychology today: playing on fears.  Why?

Because fear is a paralyzing force, used most effectively against those who are predisposed to avoid risk, shun change, and disapprove of new processes. This aversion to risk sets up conditions ideal for profit, but it discourages innovation and progress.

Fear paralyzes conservatives far more than liberals, which is why conservative political action committees generate a lot of inertia. It’s also why far-right causes are able to gain funding even when they are not representative of the agenda of the party as a whole.  The break-off of the Tea Party in 2008 was symptomatic of what happens when fear-mongering carries to dizzying heights: it causes the most fearful voters to flee even faster than the party as a whole, creating a sub-group which then must coalesce into an autonomous organization in order to survive.

Fear motivates conservatives to want to quell it, smash it quickly without question.

Liberals are more likely to embrace it, explore it, and judge for themselves whether there is a basis.

An excellent example of how this works was published earlier today, when Ted Nugent declared that he would “either be dead or in jail” if President Obama is re-elected.

This is just fear-mongering, whipping up the frenzy. Conservatives aren’t assassins, they are afraid. They want comfort and luxury. Mr. Nugent knows this, and he is playing on their fear that everything could go out of control if Mr. Obama is re-elected.

Why do people do this?

Because they love it.

There is a type of individual (and Mr. Nugent appears to be of this group) who equates fear with pleasure. They get an endorphin rush from being scared…and scaring others. They enjoy getting scared at the movies and they enjoy watching other people become terrified as well.

The ones who are really good at it know exactly what they are doing, and turn it into a livelihood… Conservative examples abound: Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, etc.

Liberals have their own fear mongers, but they tend to operate more as comedians because they know their audience just doesn’t take this stuff seriously.

So here’s the thing: Fear motivates.

People act out of fear much more often than they act out of some more noble process.

So we can expect to see a lot of fear mongering from the right over the next few months.

The problem is that this puts the President in a position of trying to calm the nerves, which is de-motivating to the Democrats. So the balance swings in favor of the GOP.

And it’s very easy to keep this momentum going.

All the Conservatives and Tea Partiers need is a few more Ted Nugents claiming that “Obama is trying to strip us of our constitutional rights.”

It’s fundamentally wrong, of course, but that’s not the point.

They want people scared. It makes them vote.


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This entry was posted on April 17, 2012 by in Art of Communication.
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