Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Priority Place-based Trait Across the Political Spectrum

A fascinating new study asked thousands of people who are ideological liberals, moderates and conservatives to rank the attributes and traits important to judging a city or town or area in which to live.

The results confirmed why two North Carolina cities such as Durham and Raleigh, even though they are separated by only two other towns, continue to diverge culturally because they appeal to different groups of people.

But to me, it boils down to what a reporter for a large city daily newspaper once remarked to me, “one of these towns just as well be Tulsa and the other Kuala Lumpur.”Place Traits by Ideology  In other words, their difference was like night and day!

However, what was interesting from this survey is that “clean air and water” rank not just first out of 47 attributes for liberals but also second for moderates and third for conservatives and libertarians. (click on the image and scroll down to the second chart.)

More often than not, the challenge is to “connect the dots” for people when it comes to things that threaten clean air and water.  People see a roadside billboard and may or may not even notice the inherent blight it creates, but if they could see or equate it with the fact that, in order for the billboard to be seen, the destruction of trees and vegetation that clean our air and water is necessary, and in addition, soil erosion and stream pollution will be direct results, we would most likely want to become truly billboard-free.

Billboards have continued to pollute roadsides long after all but 8% of the population has ceased to find them useful even over the course of an entire year because that industry is not only very effective at political rent-seeking through heavy contributions to political campaigns and arm-twisting of elected officials, but also because the billboard industry is effective at shaping the pro or against debate as positioning them as the underdog.

In reality, the debate is actually over defense of clean air and water and freedom from blight, values held by more than 7 out of 10 North Carolinians today and even protected by a constitutional amendment in the early 1970s.

I’ve witnessed first hand recently that support instead for an increasingly obsolete and increasingly destructive mode of advertising in the current North Carolina General Assembly such as roadside billboards is more a signal that elected officials, appointees and even some administrators seem far more responsive to special interests than public opinions.

I am not sure if moderates, like me, were studied but psychological research noted in this post by Dr. Brittany Liu at the University of California Irvine shows that conservatives are drawn to cognitive coherence while liberals are better able to handle cognitive complexity.

As a moderate myself, I relate to fact that moderates are probably more mixed.  I was immediately drawn to Durham more than two decades ago by its diversity and authenticity, but I am often puzzled when we seem to take fragmentation to new levels such as the incoherent way we’ve approached urban forestry and way finding signs along roadways which by its very nature must be coherent to mean anything.

Yet remarkably, even though three or four individuals tried their best to undermine it and still refuse to embrace it, Durham is one of the few communities where diverse groups across the community are able to work together to distill an overarching brand to communicate the personality, values and traits distinctive to the community to external audiences.

Regardless of who is elected or re-elected President of the United States, I am persuaded by this post by Dr. Ravi Iyer, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southern California VIMLab, that we have more in common across the political spectrum than we are led to believe.

We just need to pay more attention to our common values and less to labels.

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