Political Attitudes and the Ideology of Equality: Differentiating Support for Liberal and Conservative Political Parties in New Zealand
Sibley, Chris G., Wilson, Marc S., New Zealand Journal of Psychology
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.
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. The Equality Positioning Scale is intended to summarize the central and core elements of an ideology of equality and entitlement and is developed for use in the NZ socio-political environment specifically. The items contained in the scale are adapted from a variety of NZ-specific sources, including both our own earlier qualitative work (e.g., Sibley & Liu, 2004; Sibley, Liu, & Kirkwood, 2006), and the insightful and content rich qualitative work on race talk of Nairn and McCreanor (1990, 1991), Wetherell and Potter (1992) and others, as well as political speeches made in the years preceding the 2005 NZ general election (e.g., Brash, 2004).
We present two independent studies that explore the reliability and predictive validity of our measure by assessing the degree to which equality positioning differentiated between support for liberal (Labour and the Greens) versus conservative (National and NZ First) political parties in the two months leading up to the 2005 NZ general election. Moreover, we examine the degree to which equality positioning provided unique information predicting participant's voting preferences that could not be explained by (a) universal predictors of political orientation (Big-Five personality, Social Dominance Orientation, Right-Wing Authoritarianism, self-labelled liberalism-conservatism), and (b) other culture-specific constructs (pro-NZ European/Pakeha ingroup attitudes, support for the symbolic principles of biculturalism). Taken together, these studies provide a snapshot of the psychological and ideological motives associated with political party preferences in NZ during the 2005 election campaign.
Political Ideology in the New Zealand Context
NZ, like the United States (US), holds liberal democratic values anchored in ideals of freedom and equality as central to nationhood (Liu, 2005). NZ was the first country in the world to introduce universal suffrage, was one of the first welfare states, and New Zealanders have a tradition of protest against anti-egalitarian regimes. There are two major political parties in NZ, the Labour party (traditionally the major liberal party), and the National party (traditionally the major conservative party). In the 2005 NZ general election, these two parties achieved a remarkably similar endorsement from the nation, with Labour receiving 41.1% of the nationwide vote, and National coming in a close second with 39.1%. The next two highest ranking parties were the NZ First party (another conservative party) with 5.7%, and the Green Party (a liberal party that focuses on environmental issues) with 5.3% (Henry, 2005). With the support of a number of smaller parties (primarily the Greens), Labour formed their third consecutive government--an unprecedented achievement for a Labour party.
Research indicates that support for the National versus the Labour party differs amongst middle income voters (the majority of the NZ population) because of perceived ideological differences. Support for smaller and more extreme parties, in contrast, tends to be governed more directly by economic self-interest. Analyses of a random sample of voters conducted in 1997 indicated, for example, that the belief that people (both oneself and others) have the ability to determine their economic situation (and the related implication that equality is most appropriately defined as meritocracy) predicted increased support for National versus Labour (Allen & Ng, 2000). Furthermore, just as Wilson (2004) has shown that National party parliamentarians ascribe less importance to equality than their Labour counterparts, New Zealand voters tend to show the same pattern of preferences, with Labour party voters endorsing the general concept of equality significantly more than National party voters (Wilson, 2005).
The Labour agenda over the last few years has been marked by an egalitarian disposition toward government spending and legislation. For example, one of Labour's high profile policies during their term in government in 2000 was the 'Closing the Gaps' policy, which focused on identifying and addressing areas in which Maori (the indigenous peoples of NZ) were underperforming relative to Pakeha. Maori are disadvantaged relative to Pakeha on most indicators of social and economic well-being; Maori form 16% of the total population and 50% of the prison population; they earn 16% less income, and their life expectancy is 8 years lower (The Social Report, 2005). However, following concerted expressions of opposition from other political parties, and a significant number of mainstream (primarily Pakeha) New Zealanders, the policy was dropped, and reference to 'Closing the Gaps' removed from policy initiatives.
A common argument mobilised by members of the opposition when arguing against 'Closing the Gaps' was that government resources should be allocated on the basis of need rather than ethnic group membership, and that the policy implemented by the Labour government was effectively advantaging Maori over other New Zealanders. Dr. Don Brash, the leader of the National Party at the time of the 2005 election, mobilized similar discourses framing equality as meritocracy in his Nationhood speech delivered to the Orewa rotary club in early 2004. Brash (2004) argued, for example, that "We are one country with many peoples, not simply a society of Pakeha and Maori where the minority has a birthright to the upper hand, as the Labour Government seems to believe." Here we see the emphasis placed on treating all people equally as individuals, and the related implication that not to do so would be unjust and unfair to other individuals (presumably because they do not have 'a birthright to the upper hand'). It is somewhat ironic however, that constructing opposition to policy by arguing that it is antiegalitarian (that all New Zealanders should be treated the same) is inconsistent with survey results suggesting that belief in the importance of equality as a general principle is actually positively correlated with support for policies based on distributive justice rules, such as 'Closing the Gaps' (Wilson, 2005).
The Ideology of Equality
The above analysis of political ideology and related discourse emphasizes that terms such as 'Equality' can be used to refer to distributive justice rules that emphasize individual merit (the merit principle) or rules that consider target group membership. As numerous researchers have noted, the value of equality has the potential to cut both ways depending upon how notions of fairness are positioned to legitimize or oppose the allocation of resources, outcomes, or other treatments that consider or are seen to be otherwise contingent upon group membership (Dovidio & Gaertner, 1996; Kinder & Sears, 1981; McConahay & Hough, 1976; McConahay, 1986). At one extreme, equality may be constructed as meritocracy, whereby outcomes or treatments that consider group membership as a criterion are framed as biased and potentially discriminatory toward individuals who belong to other (typically majority) groups (Gamson & Modigliani, 1987; Arriola & Cole, 1991). Instead, the notion of equality-as-meritocracy emphasizes individual merit (performance and ability) as the governing factor that should determine issues of who gets what. Conversely, in situations where there is a gap between minority and majority group members in terms of social and/or economic wellbeing, distributive justice roles that consider minority group membership may be a viable means of increasing social equality. Presumably, it was observations of this latter type that led the Labour government to propose their 'Closing the Gaps' policy initiative in the first place.
Research in both NZ and Australia has shown that people tend to emphasize notions of equality-as-meritocracy when expressing opposition toward affirmative action and reparation in natural discourse. Such discourses typically argue that the consideration of group membership as a criterion for determining resource allocations may constitute preferential treatment or even reverse discrimination (Augoustinos, Tuffin, & Every, 2005; Augoustinos, Tuffin, & Rapley, …
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Publication information: Article title: Political Attitudes and the Ideology of Equality: Differentiating Support for Liberal and Conservative Political Parties in New Zealand. Contributors: Sibley, Chris G. - Author, Wilson, Marc S. - Author. Journal title: New Zealand Journal of Psychology. Volume: 36. Issue: 2 Publication date: July 2007. Page number: 72+. © 1998 New Zealand Psychological Society. COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group.
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