Right-left politics and IQ.

The Mail, in an article that has now gone viral, has published the results of a Canadian study into the relationship between intelligence and political views. The headline is that lefties are cleverer – a conclusion we can probably expect from experience. With all due respect to my grandparents, they never went to university, and they’re the only people I know that read The Mail. Conversely, I confidently predict that the majority of my fellow Somervillians read The Guardian.

This is, of course, no Iron Law – plenty of intelligent people are conservative and vice versa – but the results of the survey are of little surprise. The rationale provided regarding what causes this phenomenon, however, is a little murkier:

In psychological terms, the relation between intelligence and prejudice may stem from the propensity of individuals with lower cognitive ability to endorse more right wing conservative ideologies because such ideologies offer a psychological sense of stability and order.

Hm. I’d love to know where they plucked this story from. Much more intuitive to me, at least, is that with intelligence comes increased educational opportunities, which in turn brings the cosmopolitan environment of university. Couple this with greater reflection on the foundations of prejudice and its dilution is made seemingly inevitable. But I guess that does little to shed light on why the right would be the benchmark from which you do or do not progress…

Pop sociology speculation aside, it’s telling that the survey seems to be strictly about social attitudes to other races, along with issues of crime and punishment, immigration and the like. This ignores the more common way of framing the left-right debate in terms of income distribution – libertarianism representing the far right and egalitarianism the far left. It would be interesting to see if less intelligent people naturally tend towards endorsing a property system that is to their disadvantage, because whilst we naturally group cosmopolitanism and rich-bashing, there’s no logical reason why those two must go together on the left. The BNP is ‘far right’ in terms of its xenophobia, but once it ‘cleansed Britain’ it looks like it would be surprisingly socialist in its provisions for welfare.

Regardless of that potential confusion, commenters were obviously far from pleased. Ted from Teddington(!):

I seem to remember “academics” once upon a time stating that the world was flat and the Sun orbitted the Earth…..Funny how some groups of people can be wrong all the time.

Charlie Brooker on The Mail’s decision to run the story:

In terms of enraging your core readership, this is the equivalent of Nuts magazine suddenly claiming only gay men masturbate to Hollyoaks babes.


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