Empathy and the Liberal-Conservative Political Divide in the U.S.


  • Stephen G. Morris


When future historians look back upon the current political climate in the U.S., it is likely that they will view the severe state of political polarization between liberals and conservatives as being one of its defining characteristics. While some have suggested that a difference in general levels of empathy among liberals and conservatives could be playing a role in shaping their differing political attitudes, psychologist Paul Bloom has forcefully argued against any such difference in his book “Against Empathy”. In this commentary I set out to counter Bloom’s claim that there is no significant relationship between the capacity to experience empathy and political ideology. To this end, I discuss how a growing collection of empirical research indicates that an individual’s propensity to experience empathy correlates with one’s general political attitudes (including party affiliation) as well as with which specific policy positions one takes. More specifically, this research suggests that a strong connection exists between empathy and liberal political views. In light of this research, I suggest that empathy can help account for the differences in political attitudes among liberals and conservatives in the U.S. and may even help explain why such attitudes have become increasingly polarized. The analysis provided in this essay aims to further our understanding of how personality traits can be used to predict voter attitudes in the U.S. and beyond.