Liberals place more value on being funny than conservatives and libertarians.

April 23rd, 2011 by Ravi Iyer

I’ve been watching a lot of comedy central lately and have been wondering why there does not appear to be a conservative equivalent, just as there is no popular liberal equivalent to conservative AM talk radio.  Perhaps liberals value being funny more than conservatives?

To test this idea, I thought I’d look at the data from the Good Self Scale from  In it, participants are asked how important it is to have various traits, and one of them happens to be “funny”.  If you look at the below graph, you’ll see that liberals do indeed place a tiny bit more value on being funny, compared to others (p<.01 comparing liberals to non-liberals).

It is important to note that this does not mean that liberals are indeed funnier, but rather that they place a value on being funny.  The results seem plausible given that the rest of the results conform to previous research (e.g. conservatives care about loyalty more and care about being more responsible).  Some observations:

  • All groups are above the midpoint (2.5) of the scale for all traits, except for libertarians and their valuation of being generous, outgoing, and sympathetic.  Instead, libertarians score high on being intellectual and logical.
  • Moderates actually score highest in terms of valuing fairness and honesty.  A very interesting finding.
  • Liberals, in addition to wanting to be funny, also want to be creative, kind, sympathetic, and almost as intellectual as libertarians.
  • Conservatives value being responsible, loyal, and honest (comparable to moderates for honesty).

In all, these are fair descriptions of these ideological groups, and given that the other relationships are reasonable, I would conclude that it’s also reasonable to say that liberals likely do place more value on being funny than other ideological groups.  Whether they succeed or not is another question.

– Ravi Iyer

Posted in comedy, conservatives, differences between republicans and democrats, liberals, libertarians, political psychology, unpublished results, yourmorals.org15 Comments »

15 Responses to “Liberals place more value on being funny than conservatives and libertarians.”

  1. Simfish InquilineKea says:

    I find it hilarious that all groups value intellectual traits more than other traits. I think this would only be expected in a self-selected online sample. Still, it’s very interesting

  2. Ravi Iyer says:

    that is kind of funny…:)

  3. joeedh says:

    Eh, well conservatives do have an equivalent–you mentioned it yourself, it’s called talk radio. Successful conservative demogogues are all very funny satirists. It’s not something the intellectual right is very comfortable with, I must admit.

  4. Alan D. says:

    This is yet another reason liberals and conservatives would spend less time interacting. Have you seen the recent findings on liberal/conservative brain structure difference (link below)? Could these differences, in our increasing well-sorted society, ultimately result in speciation of the human race? Ha! Having just had a very “green” relative call off her engagement to a libertarian, I wonder if I’m seeing cognitive evolution at work.

  5. o0o says:

    Unfortunately (and as also demonstrated by this chart), liberals are more concerned with being sympathetic than being funny, causing many of them to seem humorless and perpetually offended.

  6. o0o says:

    Have you looked for a correlation between libertarianism and autism?

  7. Ravi Iyer says:

    @joeedh – I think Jon Stewart places a greater emphasis on humor vs. information compared to talk radio satirists, but that could be a bias of my point of view.

    @Alan – I hope not. Personally, I think liberals and conservatives balance each other out and a world of extremes would be terribly disfunctional. But humans can be very tribal and you could be right.

    @oOo – Libertarians do tend to be predominantly male and to exhibit traits of the extreme male brain (a systematic rather than empathic way of thinking) that has been linked to autism. But I would never use such a loaded term to describe a group, and many libertarians would probably see a systematic way of thinking as superior.

  8. o0o says:

    nah I’m not looking for you to say “libertarians are autistic.” But I’d be curious whether autistics are more likely on average than other populations to be libertarian.

  9. Ravi Iyer says:

    yes, I’d be curious too, but don’t know the answer.

  10. o0o says:

    Actually, this leads me to wonder: if reactance is higher among liberals, then how would you characterize the conservative impulse to reflexively disagree with whatever liberal policymakers propose? Maybe it’s not accurate to call that reactance, but is there a proper terminology for it? Both sides do this, but in the context of the current administration I feel like we see it more on the right. Even when the power balance was inverted under Bush, it seems like Dems didn’t define themselves so strongly in opposition to Bush, instead evaluating the merits of the particular actions he proposed. This *could* be “liberal bias” shaping my perception, but I’m actually a libertarian who dislikes Obama, so….

  11. Ravi Iyer says:

    I suppose I would say that conservatives are naturally better at group cohesion, as evidenced by the value they place on loyalty and authority. Being a good group member requires a lack of reactance. In contrast, liberals tend to have weaker ties to a larger group of people (universalism), so they probably tend to be worse political party members, where cohesion helps. For example, RINO (republican in name only, a slur used to enforce cohesion on the right) has no democrat equivalent.

  12. o0o says:

    that’s a good point!

  13. Alan D. says:

    Regarding reflexive conservativevdisagreement: probably just observer bias (thomi feel the same), but this quote from the brain structure link above might be pertinent:
    Individuals who call themselves liberal tend to have larger anterior cingulate cortexes, while those who call themselves conservative have larger amygdalas. Based on what is known about the functions of those two brain regions, the structural differences are consistent with reports showing a greater ability of liberals to cope with conflicting information and a greater ability of conservatives to recognize a threat, the researchers say.

    There are plenty of jokes, including an old Doonesbury strip, about dogmatic conservatives and see-both-sides liberals.

  14. mark trail says:

    Do Libs value this conservative gem? HEADLINE FROM Ny Times or Wapo


  15. Jeff Spencer says:

    I am very late to the discussion. I am wondering whether anyone has studied sense of humor as it relates to the political ideology spectrum. It strikes me that the right does not have the corollary of the likes of Colbert or Stewart. Does satire lend itself better to moderate liberal middle part of the spectrum? It seems to me that the most humorless people are at the extreme ends of the spectrum. I am also curious as to what types of humor people find funny and how it relates to their moral and political leanings.

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