Ideological differences in nationalism and patriotism are well-known and frequently exploited, but the question of why conservatives exhibit stronger national attachment than liberals has been inadequately addressed. Drawing on theories of system justification and political ideology as motivated social cognition, we proposed that increased patriotism is one means of satisfying the system justification goal. Thus, we hypothesized that temporarily activating system justification motivation should raise national attachment among liberals to the level of conservatives. Three experiments conducted in New York, Arkansas, and Wisconsin support this hypothesis. In the first two experiments, liberals exhibited weaker national attachment than conservatives in the absence of system justification activation, consistent with prior research. However, exposure to system criticism (Experiment 1) and system-level injustice (Experiment 2) caused liberals to strengthen their national attachment, eliminating the ideological gap. Using a system dependence manipulation in Experiment 3, this pattern was conceptually replicated with respect to patriotic but not nationalistic attachment, as hypothesized. Thus, chronic and temporary variability in system justification motivation helps to explain when liberals and conservatives do (and do not) differ in terms of national attachment and why.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research program was supported in part by New York University (NYU) and the National Science Foundation (Award # BCS-0617558 to John T. Jost). We thank Erin P. Hennes for generous assistance with data collection for Experiment 3. Some findings were presented at the 2011 Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) conference in San Antonio, TX, the 2012 Society of Experimental Social Psychology (SESP) conference in Austin, TX, and the 2012 NYU Center for Experimental Social Science conference on “Experimental Political Science.” We gratefully acknowledge Amanda Diekman, Joshua Gubler, Aaron C. Kay, Alan Lambert, Jamie Luguri, H. Hannah Nam, Sharareh Noorbaloochi, Joanna Sterling, Chadly Stern, and several anonymous reviewers for providing valuable comments on earlier drafts.
- Political ideology
- System justification