This essay studies disconnections between the macrolevel societal problems of a state and more microlevel political alignments.
Using a dataset composed of macrolevel measures of state problems and microlevel responses to a 2008 election survey, this essay applies multilevel statistical models to explain the state-to-state variance between the states on anti-abortion and pro-gun sentiments. This analysis uncovers the macro- and microlevel factors that disconnect a state’s neglect-of-children indicators from its citizens’ sentiments about abortion, and the factors that disconnect a state’s crime indicators from its citizens’ sentiments about guns.
The initial associations between a state’s indicators of neglect of children and anti-abortion sentiments are explained by the state’s lower human development (HD) and social attributes, especially religious beliefs, which predict social conservatism. The initial associations between a state’s indicators of crime and incarcerations are also explained by a state’s lower HD and the social attributes, especially religious beliefs, which predict social conservatism. Considering both abortion and guns as key indicators of social conservatism, the voters’ political choices exhibit a moralistic axiological rationality rather than a more pragmatic instrumental rationality.
The moral absolutism associated with sentiments about abortion and guns suggests that social conservatism and authoritarianism are intertwined but separate conceptions, which have similar consequences and determinants. Both may be influenced by the same changes in social and educational policies, especially the quality of education.
I thank Harry Dahms for his encouragement and editorial comments, several anonymous reviewers for their suggestions and critique of earlier drafts, and Junhak Lee of the University of Texas, Arlington for preparing the map of the typology of states. Of course, any errors are my own responsibility.
Smith, R.B. (2014), "Social Conservatism, Distractors, and Authoritarianism: Axiological Versus Instrumental Rationality", Mediations of Social Life in the 21st Century (Current Perspectives in Social Theory, Vol. 32), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 95-133. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0278-120420140000032005
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