Trump supporters the exception
Despite political rhetoric that places them at opposite ends of the spectrum, Republican and Democratic voters appear to be similarly compassionate.
Democrats view compassion as a political value while Republicans will integrate compassion into their politics when their leaders make it part of an explicit message.
There is a caveat to this: I asked these survey questions about personal feelings of compassion in a 2016 online survey that also asked about choice of president.
The survey was conducted a few days after Republican presidential primary candidates Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio had dropped out of the race, making Donald Trump the only viable Republican candidate for the nomination.
In their responses to the survey, a large percentage of Republican voters said they would rather vote for someone other than Trump, even though he was the unofficial nominee at that point.
The Republican voters who didn’t support Trump were similar to Democrats on the survey with respect to their answers about compassion. Their average scores on the compassion items were the same. This is in line with the other survey data showing that liberals and conservatives, and Republicans and Democrats, are largely similar in these personality measures of compassion.
But Trump supporters’ answers were not in line with these findings.
Instead, their average responses to the broad compassion questions were significantly lower. These answers showed that Trump supporters were lower in personal compassion.
While a lot of the Republican voters in the sample may well have gone on to support Trump in the general election, the survey respondents who were early adopters of candidate Trump might continue to be his most steadfast supporters today.
We know that public officials’ rhetoric can influence public opinion on political issues. This leads to another important question: Can political messages influence how much people value compassion more generally? Or even how compassionate people consider themselves to be?
The research indicates that appeals to compassion — if made by trusted leaders — should work for voters of both parties.
But it also indicates that if such messages are absent, compassion is less likely to be seen as important in politics and the positions people and parties take.
Meri T. Long is a lecturer on American politics at the University of Pittsburgh.