I don't know how to explain my question but basically I don't follow politics much and for instance can't really tell the difference between liberal/conservative vs Democratic/Republican, but recently someone asked me about my views and they were surprised because apparently I like some things from Democratic party and some from Republican (or from both conservatives and liberals). I started to wonder if I am an anomaly because apparently most people belong to one of the two parties (and rarely to green party).

Just to give a concrete example, for instance I don't understand why belief in strong national defense has to go hand in hand with being anti abortion and anti gay marriage. Yet those views do go together, in Republican party. Or why does religion and being in favor of free enterprise go hand in hand? Or to pick another example, this time from the democratic party, why is being pro gay marriage also means being pro abortion, and protecting the environment.

I don't know if my question has more to do with history of US and its culture and society (perhaps in some other country or at some other time in future it's atheists who are pro free enterprise and the religious being against), or with human psychology? Or maybe it's one of those questions that has no answer, and it is the way it just because.

I figured I ask here and maybe someone can explain it to me or direct me to some readings.

  • why belief in strong national defense has to go hand to hand with being anti abortion. So far I do not know of any mainstream party in the world that beliefs in weak national defense and promotes it (although many accuse their opponents of that, but that is campaigning). And claiming that one party is more prone to military solutions and the other to diplomatic solutions would be difficult, too (presidents usually use both approachs). Could you find a better example (social welfare, environmentalism, etc.)?
    – SJuan76
    Nov 19 '16 at 9:58
  • I used that example from wikipedia, the intro: "Its current ideology is American conservatism, which contrasts with the Democrats' modern liberalism. The Republican Party's platform involves support for free market capitalism, free enterprise, business, a strong national defense, deregulation, restrictions on labor unions, social-conservative policies (particularly opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage), and traditional values, usually with a Judeo-Christian ethical foundation..."
    – RyanFalon
    Nov 19 '16 at 22:25

There are two main (and a bunch of other) reasons for this.

  • The main one is that USA has what's known as "First Past The Post" electoral system (which is an academic way of saying, you can only vote for one candidate and whichever candidate gets most votes, wins).

    Duverger's law states that plurality voting (of which FPTP is a special case) tends to lead to two-party system, because the chances of being elected while running on a smaller party platform are minuscule.

    For example,

    • in 1992 Presidential elections, Ross Perot got 19% of the votes, but zero electoral votes (some argue, effectively handing Presidency to Bill Clinton the latter might likely be partly why in 2016, 3rd party candidates got only 4% combined).

    • Libertarian party has a likely voting base that can be argued to be around 20%, yet they got zero electoral votes, only <4% popular vote in 2016 presidential elections, hold zero Senate, Congress or Governor seats, and holds 1 (one) out of ~2000 state legislative seats in upper houses and zero of 5000 in state lower houses.

    As such, despite people having multi-faceted views, they effectively are forced to choose only one of two parties to support in practice. The party may very well not represent many of their views (those ~20% libertarians are among the examples you list, who largely disagree with Republicans on social issues like gay marriage - yet, they tend to vote Republican, over other issues like fiscal policy)

  • Second one is that certain beliefs do tend to be clustered, either demographically, or ideologically.

    Yes, there are definitely people who believe in strong national defense and support abortion and like gay marriage. There are people who support gun rights but like to tax the rich (Bernie Sanders).

    Side note: as a matter of fact, some views clustered in a single party may out-and-out contradict each other (strong national defense typically contradicts gay rights denial, because it tends to drive off or exclude strong candidates for national defense positions from consideration. Imagine a world where Turing killed himself before WWII. Imagine if Alexander the Great was rejected from Macedonian army command because he was bisexual. Additionally, since you can't exclude ALL non-straight people, negative attitude towards non-straights turns them into security risks, either through dissatisfaction with society or through being susceptible to blackmail - which is the fault of society, not them).

    But there definitely are correlations between certain beliefs and views - many of them are not straight out causation but rather might be driven by being associated with certain moral attitudes (see Moral Foundations theory which tries to explain how things factor out).


Because person's views on specific things is usually a result of their views on more fundamental concepts. Understanding these concepts may provide with pretty accurate estimate (not a guarantee, though; see below) about what view would a person have on specific topics.

For example:

Personal Freedom vs. Social Stability

A person's view on the balance between personal freedom and social stability forms a wide set of their views on "smaller" things in surrounding world.
For example, if someone believes that "my body is my concern" (pro-personal-freedom), this person would more likely be a pro-gay-marriage, pro-transgender, pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia, pro-carrying-weapons than someone whose views are based on social stability.
At the same time, the same person would be more likely anti-high-taxes, anti-police-powers, etc.

The opposite statement (about someone who rather has pro-social-stability views) is also absolutely valid.

The "Strict Father" logic

Also, I'd like to refer George Lakoff's article, Understanding Trump.
Leave Trump aside. This article is not about Trump; it is about you and me.
The article provides with a very deep analysis about how person's worldview affects their approach on other, "smaller" things in their life.

See, for example, The Moral Hierarchy section.

The strict father logic extends further. The hierarchy is: God above Man, Man above Nature, The Disciplined (Strong) above the Undisciplined (Weak), The Rich above the Poor, Employers above Employees, Adults above Children, Western culture above other cultures, America above other countries. The hierarchy extends to: Men above women, Whites above Nonwhites, Christians above nonChristians, Straights above Gays.

So, a person who believes in this moral hierarchy, would {almost} automatically obtain a certain (negative) view on women's rights, other religions, gay/transgender, and many other ideas.


  1. People usually don't have sufficient information to form a solid ground for their views on certain subjects.

  2. However, there are more fundamental concepts which every person believes (accepts of refuses).

  3. These concepts form this person's worldview patterns.

  4. So, there is no surprise to see that some apparently unrelated views belong to the same pattern.

  5. Just like:

    …belief in strong national defense has to go hand in hand with being anti abortion and anti gay marriage

  6. Note, it is not about political parties. In real world, parties often combine several worldview patterns. That's why, for example, the Republican party of U.S. is mostly pro-carrying-weapons but anti-gay-marriage. There are reasons for that, but I believe these are above the scope of this question.


Just to give a concrete example, for instance I don't understand why belief in strong national defense has to go hand in hand with being anti abortion and anti gay marriage.

They don't. For example, Joe Lieberman is strong on national defense and liberal on issues like abortion and same sex marriage. Part of the confusion here is that in the United States, every legislator is forced to align (or caucus) with one of the two parties. Even Angus King of Maine caucuses with the Democrats despite being nominally independent.

In many other countries, parties are smaller and more specific. Voters pick the exact party that they want and then the politicians work out the coalitions after that. This produces similar coalitions in effect, as a strong national defense party might ally with a party that is against abortion and same sex marriage. But it's clearer that the coalitions are temporary. And because politicians make the coalitions and not voters, they are easier to dissolve. Voters aren't invested in them.

In the US, voters pick the president (somewhat indirectly but still solely; their presidential vote doesn't have to determine their votes for legislatures unless they choose to do so). Voters may be picking their candidate based on national defense, but they get a candidate with a multitude of positions. Supporters don't necessarily need to support all the positions, but they need to be able to make peace with them.

Abortion in particular is an example of an area where things have changed. In the 1970s, anti-abortion (pro-life) was a Democrat issue. Southern Democrats like Bill Clinton and Al Gore and Catholic Democrats like Bill Coyne were officially pro-life. Also, at that time, pro-life meant both anti-abortion and against the death penalty.

In 1980, Reagan changed that. He ran on an explicitly pro-life platform. Due to his success, most everyone in the Republican party is at least nominally pro-life and all but a few Democrats are pro-choice (pro-abortion availability). Even those who are nominally pro-life (like Bob Casey, Jr.) vote pro-choice on the few active issues (Supreme Court nominations and support for Planned Parenthood).

The abortion and death penalty issues separated. Most evangelicals are anti-abortion and for the death penalty, invoking separate principles for fetuses and criminals. Others had previously linked them as both human beings. Both are logical positions, but the logic of course follows a different path.

One reason for a politician to pick up certain issues is because they are strongly held. For example, in 1980, roughly 8% of voters said they voted only on abortion. 2% for and 6% against. So Reagan's position had the effect (if not the intent) of giving him a net 4% gain in voters. And it was part of a larger stance, a moral stance. Reagan ran as the champion of moral uprightness (against premarital and extramarital sex, abortion, etc. and for marriage). That was considered one leg of his platform. The other two were strong defense and low taxes. Where low taxes could be generalized out to include low domestic spending and limited regulation. In combination those gave him a political majority.

Notice how low spending and a strong national defense are in conflict. He chose strong defense over low spending (and strong defense over low debt). Someone else might prefer low spending. Someone else might put domestic and defense spending in conflict and favor one over the other. For example, a common Democrat position is that spending cuts in defense should be used to pay for more social programs. Lieberman favors high taxes and a strong national defense (and high domestic spending).

The joke in the 1980s was that voters selected a Democratic Congress to get lots of goodies and a Republican president so they wouldn't have to pay for it.

Politics is often a matter of compromise. In parliamentary systems, that compromise is often made by politicians after elections, when they form coalitions to choose a prime minister. In presidential systems (where the president is chosen separately from legislators), that compromise is often made by voters. Historically voters would hedge their votes a bit, voting for a president from one party and a Senator from the other. But in the 2016 election, they didn't do that in any state.

In your particular case, you might find yourself becoming more partisan if you were more interested in politics. Because people have been increasingly picking sides. You've stayed out of it, so your beliefs can be more free form and don't need to conform to the political choices that you are making.


On face value many issues you mention seem unrelated. But mostly there is a relationship.

One way of understanding politics is the political compass, which is a two dimensional evolution of the one dimensional left-right dichotomy. That helps identify political philosophy, but it doesn't explain it.

In comparison the Inglehart-Welzel cultural map of the world goes a long way to identify politics by culture, and to imply cause from definition. Instead of X and Y being Left-Right, Authoritarian-Libertarian, the Inglehart-Welzel axis are Survival-Self Expression, Traditional-Secular Rational.

We know there's a relationship between neurology and politics. Brain scans have shown a relationship between fearful brains and the politics of threat and ambiguity reduction (traditional, authoritarian). Given natural biological variation, we should expect a neurological diversity in any given population, in which some are more fearful, and some less.

We also know that there's variation between national cultures in terms of lived experience of threat. Russia has an exceptionally strong 'survival' bias on the Inglehart-Welzel chart. It seems obvious to suggest that this is at least partly motivated by a history of constant existential threat and wars of annihilation. Russians have a strong collective memory of being invaded by people who wanted to destroy their culture, from Napoleon's revolutionary army to genocidal Nazis.

So we know there's a neurological and cultural bias at work between individuals and nations. This bias expresses itself in terms of the intuition of threat and ambiguity reduction. Authoritarian and traditional politics is about group survival, and not individual self expression.

From this we can understand that leaders who promote militarism and reproductive families emphasise anxiety-reducing social institutions which comfort those inclined to pessimistic and/or fearful feeling. In a similar way gun rights advocates target their arguments to increase fear, inflating the risk of individuals being involved in violent crime or burglary and deflating the statistic risk of gun ownership (in relation to accident or suicide).

The commonality is the clustering of threat reduction intuition, and how this ties more broadly into the question of group survival or individual self-expression. We see predictable patterns common between diverse cultures who share an emphasis on survival; the traditional family will be emphasised, as will traditional gender roles. These tend society towards a division of labour which suits militarism, and thus structures culture to present in a way which calms fearful brains.

Questions about immigration and multiculturalism can be understood in the same way, that efforts to increase societal homogeneity and reduce diversity work to reduce threat and ambiguity intuitions.

These manifestations however are often antithetical to brains which are less fearful and eager for exploration away from a place of emotional comfort and stability.

The distinction is quite clear cut. This seems to be why liberals in Russia and America share lots in common, as do each country's traditionalists. Why would those who favour President Trump also like President Putin and vice versa? The gulf of cultural experience between Americans and Russians is huge, but what is common most fundamentally is neurology, and thus how they feel. Indeed it also seems to point to why the behaviour of extremists is clustered, regardless of their politics or religion.

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