Which party owns which words?

August 20th, 2012 by Jonathan Haidt

[Cross posted from RighteousMind.com]

I just found a wonderful tool at CapitolWords.org which shows you the frequency with which any word is used in the congressional record since 1996. (Hat tip to Emily Ekins.) You can see which party uses each word more often, and which Senators and Representatives use the word most often. It offers a quick check on the claims I made in The Righteous Mind about how the Left owns Care and Fairness (as Equality), whereas the Right owns the rest of the moral foundations. I’m ignoring the line graphs plotting changes over time (there are hardly any) and I’ll just present the overall pie charts here:



Pie chart of occurrences of care by party


Pie chart of occurrences of compassion by party

Conclusion: yes, Dems use these words more often.



Pie chart of occurrences of FAIRNESS by party


Pie chart of occurrences of justice by party


Pie chart of occurrences of equality by party

Conclusion: Yes, Dems use these words more, especially “equality.” The words “proportionality” and “equity” rarely occur; there’s no clear word to get at fairness-as-proportionality, which I claim is a concept more valued on the right.



Pie chart of occurrences of liberty by party


Pie chart of occurrences of freedom by party

Conclusion: Yes, Republicans use these words more. It’s a sign of trouble for the liberal party when liberalism forfeits the word liberty.



Pie chart of occurrences of loyalty by party


Pie chart of occurrences of patriotism by party

Conclusion: No, contrary to my prediction, Democrats use the words loyalty and patriotism slightly more often than do Republicans.

5) The Authority/subversion Foundation


Pie chart of occurrences of authority by party


Pie chart of occurrences of obedience by party

Conclusion: No difference on “authority” (which has a great many non-moral uses in a legal and legislative context) but yes on “obedience.”

6) The Sanctity/Degradation Foundation:


Pie chart of occurrences of sanctity by party


Pie chart of occurrences of purity by party

Conclusion: Republicans use these words much more often.

Overall conclusion: This crude measure offers some support for the portrait I painted in chapters 7 and 8 of Righteous Mind: Democrats own the central words of the Care and Fairness foundations, Republicans own the central words of the Liberty and Sanctity foundations. Republicans used one of the two central words of the Authority foundation more than did Democrats, and contrary to my predictions, Democrats used two of the central words of the Loyalty foundations slightly more than did Republicans.

Of course, all of these words are used in many ways, and the next step would be to examine word usage in context. Are Democrats really using the word “authority” in ways that show that they deeply respect authority? For example, the most recent uses in the congressional record on the day I did this analysis are Democrats talking about “a leading authority of Islamic culture” and “Congress has delegated much authority to the D.C. government…” These uses shouldn’t really count. When Jesse Graham, Brian Nosek and I last did a linguistic analysis of church sermons, we found a similar picture: most of our predictions were supported by raw word counts. But once we analyzed words in context and only counted the cases that truly endorsed a foundation, then all predictions were supported.

Posted in differences between republicans and democrats, moral foundations, political psychology1 Comment »

One Response to “Which party owns which words?”

  1. Robert Tormey says:

    I just finished Righteous Mind (RM) and have done a few of the tests on this website. Also watched a video of your presentation to TED. I’ve been Democrate, and Republican, currently registered as a Libertarian.

    I think your research is fairly profound. It is difficult though to accept that most of my opinions are simply based on softwired predispositions combined with years of reading and research to maintain my own confirmation biases. It kind of suggests that there are no correct opinions.

    I’m troubled by the assertion in RM that Liberals own the concepts of caring and fairness. I find that in the political realm Liberals defend their ‘team’ to a degree that would suggest the ‘Loyalty/Authority’ element is MORE important than the Caring and Fairness element. I watched in amazement this year when the party that lionized Ted Kennedy (murderer of Mary Joe Kopechne) continued to fall all over Bill Clinton (accused rapist) while arguing that Republicans wage a ‘war on women’ simply because they feel a sense of ‘caring’ and ‘fairness’ towards the unborn.

    To my experience, the ‘Loyalty’ component of the Liberal mind to their own tribe (hive?) is their overwhelming characteristic and their confirmation bias kicks in readily when a Liberal icon is attacked.

    Examples abound. Public sector teacher unions put loyalty to the union over the welfare of students, the burden to the taxpayer and the solvency of the state. I don’t see ‘caring’ and ‘fairness’ kicking in quite as much as one would expect from reading RM.

    I do believe that these parties USE the words to attract support, as marketing devices. In all likelihood, long before your book was researched and published, politicans uncanny instincts for what ‘works’ with an electorate had determined these elements and simply use them to build consensus with the electorates. But I’ve not found that these sentiments are genuine, at least, not in the liberals I know.

    I do find that conservative talk show hosts seem to abuse the care and fairness elements to a fault, particularly Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. I’ve read their books and feel I understand their points but they come off so harshly that I think they drive many away. I no longer listen to them and feel they do their cause a disservice. Rush’s nonsense with Sandra Fluke and playing that stupid ‘Magic Negro’ song, Feminnazi stuff brands all conservatives as unfeeling, disrespectful and hardly the party of Lincoln. But he makes a fortune and isn’t asking for my advice.

    I would like to know if after getting the elements of fairness down as you’ve done in RM whether you have done further research as to whether there is any kind of migration or progression of people along these elements, i.e. whether education, aging, income or life experience or any element tends to cause people to broaden their moral basis. If people change their orientation, HOW do they change? what drives and motivates change on this spectrum?

    I only ask because I once was a Democrat, as I learned more about economics, I migrated to Republican and as I learned more about the Republicans migrated to Libertarian. However, I remain a Roman Catholic so elements of the Libertarian party position I am still at odds with. I’ve basically become disappointed in government and am persuaded it does not represent a solution to problems but rather simply a vehicle for both parties to transfer wealth, opportunity and advantage to their favored constituencies. So downsizing it across the board can only help those who aren’t favored by either party which truth be told is most of us.

    anyway, if you have further research publised on whether people change their orientations across the moral hierarchy and how that change might be influenced, I’d appreciate a link to that research. thanks.

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