Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Our Three Families - and what Canadians think of their political parents

It is interesting to extrapolate the results of the recent (August 15 2009) poll by Angus Reid on how Canadians feel about our political parties, in the light of the George Lakoff analysis of the basic difference in worldview between conservatives and progressives.

And my extrapolation shows some decided and very interesting dissonances! Clearly the parental role models of the three major national parties need some serious reworking in order to remove the dissonances.

But first, let's set the scene by referring to Lakoff's analysis.

George Lakoff took a long hard look at Republicans and Democrats down south and came to the conclusion that one can understand American politics better if you realize that the followers of these two parties believe in two different parenting models.
Conservatives (Republicans) believe in the Strict Father model of the universe, while Progressives (Democrats) believe in the Nurturing Parent model.

What the heck is this? Here is how Lakoff describes the two models:

"Well, the progressive worldview is modeled on a nurturant parent family. Briefly, it assumes that the world is basically good and can be made better and that one must work toward that. Children are born good; parents can make them better. Nurturing involves empathy, and the responsibility to take care of oneself and others for whom we are responsible. On a larger scale, specific policies follow, such as governmental protection in form of a social safety net and government regulation, universal education (to ensure competence, fairness), civil liberties and equal treatment (fairness and freedom), accountability (derived from trust), public service (from responsibility), open government (from open communication), and the promotion of an economy that benefits all and functions to promote these values, which are traditional progressive values in American politics.

The conservative worldview, the strict father model, assumes that the world is dangerous and difficult and that children are born bad and must be made good. The strict father is the moral authority who supports and defends the family, tells his wife what to do, and teaches his kids right from wrong. The only way to do that is through painful discipline - physical punishment that by adulthood will become internal discipline. The good people are the disciplined people. Once grown, the self-reliant, disciplined children are on their own. Those children who remain dependent (who were spoiled, overly willful, or recalcitrant) should be forced to undergo further discipline or be cut free with no support to face the discipline of the outside world.

So, project this onto the nation and you see that to the right wing, the good citizens are the disciplined ones - those who have already become wealthy or at least self-reliant - and those who are on the way. Social programs, meanwhile, "spoil" people by giving them things they haven't earned and keeping them dependent. The government is there only to protect the nation, maintain order, administer justice (punishment), and to provide for the promotion and orderly conduct of business. In this way, disciplined people become self-reliant. Wealth is a measure of discipline. Taxes beyond the minimum needed for such government take away from the good, disciplined people rewards that they have earned and spend it on those who have not earned it."

How does that impact morality?

"A "nurturant parent" family is one that revolves around every family member caring for and being cared for by every other family member, around open communication between all parties, and around everyone pursuing their own vision of happiness. It is also correlated with the following views … Morality: The basis of morality is in understanding, respecting, and helping other people, and in seeking the happiness of one's self and of others. The primary vices are selfishness and anti-social behavior… A "strict father" family revolves around the parents teaching their children how to be self-reliant and self-disciplined through "tough love". This is correlated with the following views … Morality: Evil is all around us, constantly tempting us. Thus, the basis of morality is strong moral character, which requires self-reliance and self-discipline. The primary vices are those that dissolve self-discipline, such as laziness, gluttony, and indulgent sexuality."

But Lakoff does not mean is that people consciously believe in the family concepts that he has described; he believes he is describing mental structures that may well be mostly below conscious level. "This does not mean, however, that they have little or no effect on one's opinions and consequent actions."

Okay so far, but how does this impact politics?

Howard Dean has one answer:

"What you do is crank the heck out of your base, get them really excited and crank up the base turnout and you'll win the middle-of-the-roaders," Dean told US News and World Report. Dean reasoned that since swing voters share the mental model of both parties they will eventually go with whatever party excites them the most. "Democrats appeal to them on their softer side--the safety net--but the Republicans appeal to them on the harder side--the discipline, the responsibility, and so forth. So the question is which side appears to be energetic, deeply believing in its message, deeply committed to bringing a vision of hope to America. That side is the side that gets the swing voters and wins."

Good. Now let's look at what Canadians think of their Strict Father (the Conservative Party) and Nurturing Parent (the NDP), and also, of course, of the ambivalent (I call this model the Strict Nurturing Father?) Liberal Party.

Most importantly, the factor Howard Dean says is critical to attracting swing voters (who will eventually go with whatever party excites them the most). Terrible news for ALL the parties. Canadians find that the family heads of the Tories, Liberals and NDP are incredibly BORING. A mere 3% are excited by Big Daddy Stephen, while MomDaddy Michael thrills barely one in 20 (5%), and Caring Dad Jack sends shivers up the leg of a mere 7%.

The fact that Caring Dad Jack is twice as exciting a family head as Big Daddy Stephen is small comfort, when just about everybody finds you boring.

Let's describe the positive attributes of Big Daddy Stephen, as the representative of his party, the Conservatives.

Poor Big Daddy!

The highest score he gets in the 8 positive attributes is a terribly low 24% for being Intelligent. I guess if you are a family member (that is, a conservative Canadian, one of the 30% or so of our population who polls show favour the Tories), and you are relying on Big Daddy to shape the world for you and raise you so as to meet its challenges, then the very least you would want daddy-o to be a smart man. Put another way, only about one in four Canadians chose the word intelligent as a word which describes the Conservative Party.

How about other soft and touchy attributes? Any empathy showing?

Sorry, Harper. Just about nobody thinks the word Compassionate applies to you. Less than one in 20 (19%) chose the word Efficient to describe your party (and by extension, you as father of the family). But one in four think you are Strong. (Caring Dad Jack gets only a 7% mention, not enough to win any Oscars, while MomDaddy Michael scores almost twice as much as Jack, racking up a 15% score). All the other positive attributes (Down to earth, open, honest, in touch) are just not on the horizon in any meaningful way for the CPC and LPC; the NDP whips their collective asses with scores almost double theirs.

What about the negative attributes of the family heads?

Oops! Some really really bad news for BigDaddy Stephen and MomDaddy Michael. There are 8 of these (arrogant, secretive, inefficient, uncaring, dishonest, weak, out of touch and foolish).

And guess what? Harper's family scores over 30% in 6 of them, Ignatieff's family over 30 in 5 of them, and Layton's in only 4 of them.

What is really damning is that all three parties score very highly when it comes to be considered by Canadians as Out of touch.

My oh my!

Looks like your kids need a little loving, daddy-o's!

Better start thinking about how poorly you are performing in your role models as parents, and start listening to the other family members.

And by the way, Stephen and Michael: your parties both score scaringly high in the Dishonesty stakes (36% and 38%).

Perhaps you two could start by thinking of how to change your arrogance (55% for CPC and 43% for LPC). Now there's a good place to start the reformation.

Given the scores of the two major national parties, it is amazing that the Dippers have such low support from voters (around about 15%, or half that of the CPC and LPC). Methinks the fault lies in that party also being Out of touch, and Foolish (32%) and Weak (37%).

Be an interesting exercise if readers of this post used the same attributes and asked their own family members and friends to rate the three parties and the three party leaders … and then to ask the critical question about the results: Why?


  1. 'Sorry, Harper. Just about nobody thinks the word Compassionate applies to you.'

    That comes from the opposition/media framing Harper from 2003-present.
    Just like Dion is not a leader and MI is just visiting....framing sticks.

  2. Fascinating. Now why doesn't somebody do a study or poll on Canadians as the Parent and the Parties as the Children? Perhaps that would be a better start on reformation. Obviously the parents (citizens) are feeling very left out and hence have abandonment issues. If the children (party leaders) do not at least behave decently and with maturity, then the parents will with hold their allowance (taxes). A simple punishment, neither Strict Father (Con) nor Nurturing (Progressive), just common sense. It would certainly eliminate being Out of Touch very quickly.

  3. Anon, I guess that's what we (as voters and parents) theoretically do every election.
    But given our election results, it seems we (the parents) cannot make up our minds what the problems of our children are and how to deal with them!

    Maybe we need some lengthy family counselling???

  4. Ekos Poll Page 2-Aug 13, 2009
    Iggy now at 29%, his negatives have doubled in the last 6 month.

    The reason? Election threats, lack of policy?

    This will not end well for the Liberals short term plan of returning to power.

    How did the foreign affair critic Bob get uninvited to China?

  5. The conservatives are simply not compassionate - why take out progressive from their name? They only feel compassion towards their base. If they had a majority you'd even see less of it with a Bush-style of 51% governing meaning divide only care about that half of the population and screw the rest.

    And unlike most spineless commenters I'll put my full and real name here.


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