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Political Attitudes and the Ideology of Equality: Differentiating Support for Liberal and Conservative Political Parties in New Zealand

Article excerpt

A new scale summarizing the central and core elements of a social representation of individual versus group-based entitlement to resource-allocations in New Zealand (NZ) is presented. Item content for the Equality Positioning Scale was drawn from qualitative analyses of the discourses of NZ's citizens, its political elites, and the media. As hypothesized, equality positioning differentiated between Pakeha (NZ European) undergraduates who supported liberal versus conservative political parties. People who positioned equality as group-based tended to support the Labour and Green parties and those who positioned equality as meritocracy tended to support the National and NZ First parties. Regression models predicting political party support in the two months prior to the 2005 NZ general election demonstrated that the effects of equality positioning on political party preference were unique, and were not explained by universal (Study 1: Big-Five Personality, Social Dominance Orientation, Right-Wing Authoritarianism, liberalism-conservatism) or culture-specific; Study 2: pro-Pakeha ingroup attitudes, support for the symbolic principles of biculturalism) indicators derived from other theoretical perspectives. Taken together, these findings indicate that the Equality Positioning Scale provides a valid and reliable measure that contributes to models of the psychological and ideological bases of voting behaviour in NZ. Moreover, our findings suggest that the positioning of equality provided an axis of meaning that aided in the creation and mobilization of public opinion regarding resource-allocations, land claims, affirmative action programs, and a host of other material issues in the months leading up to the 2005 NZ election.

Keywords: politics, voting, ideology, social policy, affirmative action, discourses of racism, biculturalism, intergroup relations.

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There has been considerable political debate regarding issues of who gets what in contemporary New Zealand (NZ) society. Such debate is often characterized by an underlying tension between contrasting ideologies of equality. On the one hand, some definitions prescribe that equality should be based on principles of meritocracy that emphasize the individual's freedom to pursue economic self-interest and the right to have their worth determined based solely upon their individual merit. On the other hand, some definitions emphasize that equality should consider group differences, whereby it may be necessary to allocate resources on the basis of group membership in order to reduce categorical disadvantages experienced by some groups within society.

As various commentators have suggested, the positioning of equality provided a central axis that organized much of the political debate regarding tax cuts, the role and function of the Treaty of Waitangi, and affirmative action policy in the months leading up to the 2005 NZ general election (Johansson, 2004; Kirkwood, Liu, & Weatherall, 2005; Sibley, Robertson, & Kirkwood, 2005). Consistent with these observations, we argue that ideologies of equality and issues of who gets what were central to the NZ 2005 election campaign in much the same what that ideologies of national security and the war on terrorism were central to election campaigns in the United States (US) that occurred at around the same time. However, as Jost (2006) concluded in a recent summary, although trends in the ideologies that govern voting behavior and political attitudes are often commented upon anecdotally, systematic quantitative research validating such observations remains limited. This is particularly true of the NZ context.

The present research addresses this lacuna and explores the impact of the ideological positioning of equality on the political party preferences of the majority ethnic group in NZ (Pakeha, or NZ Europeans (1)) in the months leading up to the 2005 NZ general election. In order to examine this issue, we present a new measure of individual differences in value framing, which we term Equality Positioning. …