The debate over the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, is one of the most intense and complex debates in American history. With polls showing that just over half of Americans oppose the law and just under half support it, the debate seems destined to continue. Many observers in the UK, Western Europe and other parts of the world where government-funded, single-payer healthcare systems have been in place for decades are genuinely confused by this debate. In particular they wonder why half of the American population is resistant to greater access to healthcare for those who don’t now have that access or who find themselves struggling with the current system. It seems incomprehensible that this would be the case.
There’s been a political psychology firestorm happening recently: several studies have emerged which seem to suggest that conservative attitudes are linked to lower cognitive ability, prejudice, and low-effort thinking. This isn’t a new debate; a study from 2009 showed that higher childhood intelligence predicts a tendency to vote for left of centre parties and to be more politically engaged in adulthood. Several studies from the late 90s and early 00s link the personality trait openness to experience with both intelligence and left-wing attitudes, which means that left-wing people tend to be more tolerant and open to different lifestyles and attitudes, and this element of personality is correlated with higher intelligence.
All this research points towards the conclusion that people with low intelligence and cognitive ability tend towards conservatism, but this obviously does not then mean that all conservatives are of low intelligence and cognitive ability (that would be the fallacy of affirming the consequent). The research actually indicates this:
I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative.
John Stuart Mill, in a Parliamentary debate with the Conservative MP, John Pakington (May 31, 1866)