A UC Berkeley study and accompanying press release that focused on defining the psychology of social conservatism has infuriated conservatives across the country and prompted a demand for an apology from the Berkeley College Republicans.
The College Republicans issued their request for a formal apology on Friday, five days after the original press release, entitled “What Makes
Conservatives Tick,” appeared on the UC Berkeley home page to celebrate the release of a 37-page study that set out to explain underlying motivations common to all conservatives.
The release was written by senior public information representative Kathleen Maclay but was approved by Berkeley associate professor of public policy Jack Glaser, who co-wrote the study with John Jost of Stanford University, Arie Kruglanski of the University of Maryland, and UC Berkeley visiting professor Frank Sulloway.
At the heart of the current controversy is a paragraph that many conservatives charge equates former U.S. President Ronald Reagan with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini as political conservatives. The paragraph reads, “Disparate conservatives share a resistance to change and acceptance of inequality, the authors said. Hitler, Mussolini, and former president Ronald Reagan were individuals, but all were right-wing conservatives because they preached a return to an idealized past and condoned inequality in some form.”
The study, which involved 88 sample works and 22,818 participants, found several main psychological factors that are shared traits among political conservatives. These traits include fear and aggression, intolerance of ambiguity, avoidance of uncertainty, and the need for cognitive closure,
according to the press release.
“The main finding was that conservatives tend to see the world more in black and white,” Glaser said.
“[The press release] did not just misrepresent political conservatism, it misrepresented historical facts,” said Andrea Irvin, the president of the Berkeley College Republicans. “The likening of Reagan to Hitler is ridiculous to us.”
But Glaser said the release does not equate Hitler and Reagan if read carefully and emphasized that he would not have approved the media relations release if he had read the paragraph as drawing that analogy.
“It says at the beginning of the first sentence that these are ‘disparate conservatives,’” Glaser said. “I would not compare Reagan and Hitler. That is offensive to me, and that’s not what it said, but if someone just glossed over the words instead of reading it carefully I can see how they might have thought that.”
The press release has since been removed from UC Berkeley’s home page and has been modified slightly. The release and study are still available through the Web site’s news center.
On Friday, the Berkeley College Republicans sent a formal request for an apology to Maclay’s office. The group also posted a response article on the Web site of its monthly journal, the California Patriot.
“This release is a political tool by the university,” said Amaury Gallais, the Bay Area Chair of the California College Republicans, in the article. “No conservative values are respected, only criticized.”
Although the College Republicans’ main concern was with the press release that accompanied the formal study, Irvin and other group members also took issue with some conclusions drawn about conservatives as a whole in the report. The California Patriot article goes on to question Glaser’s claim that conservatives possess less “integrative complexity than others,” stating that many see that particular comment as “another attempt by the university to push a liberal agenda.” Many College Republicans were also concerned that because Berkeley is a public institution, public funding may have been used to support what they see as a biased study.
“There is a definite political lean to the study,” Irwin said. “It felt like it painted a poor picture of political conservatism as a whole. They were trying to condense it into a study that paints being conservative as psychologically inferior.”
But Glaser said that his study was designed only to find key similarities
among a group of people, not to portray that group as inferior or identical
to each other.
“None of the information that is in the study is earth-shattering,” Glaser said. “Among any group of people there are interesting consistencies among people’s motivations.”
Since the study was released early last week, Glaser and Maclay have
attracted national attention from conservative pundits and media organizations. The National Review posted an opinion column listing concerns about the press release, and the controversy has been featured on the Wall Street Journal’s online opinion page. California Patriot editor-in-chief Steve Sexton appeared on Fox News Radio Monday night, and Hovannes Abramyan, the author of the Patriot article about the press release, made an appearance on news channel MSNBC.
“When I approved the press release I wasn’t being too media-savvy,” Glaser said. “I did not predict this outrage.”