Editor’s note: MisCONceptions is a column with four contributors. This article was written by Nicholas Rishi.
Perhaps the greatest misconceptions we form about those with opposing political views are born out of an inability to understand why somebody believes what they do. Too frequently, we jump to negative conclusions about the motives and logic behind other people’s politics. When we hear somebody say something we may think of as egregious, we are quick to assume that we have radically different views of the ideal outcomes of an issue, when we simply may have different approaches to achieving the same goals. Understanding the life experiences that contribute to a person’s politics is critical to appreciating and understanding their beliefs. As the saying goes, you should walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before judging them.
I believe that much of the stigma around conservatism can be explained by these phenomena. On nearly every matter of public policy, conservatives and liberals have the same basic end goals in mind. For example, in terms of healthcare, the majority of Americans agree that the healthcare system is broken. Most also agree on the fundamental principles of creating a system that is accessible, affordable and high quality. A more liberal person may argue for a government approach to healthcare, whereas a more conservative person may argue for a private approach. The conservative person doesn’t believe any less that healthcare should be affordable, accessible and high quality than the liberal person does. Rather, the conservative person has concluded that the government approach is less effective in that aim. Their opinion could be influenced by disfavorable experiences with slow and convoluted government departments, or perhaps because they are more satisfied with the quality of their private insurance. Regardless, some of the negativity toward conservatives on this issue and others stems from a belief that conservatives do not have the same good intentions in mind as liberals.
Perhaps the greatest illustration of this argument is that compared to other Hispanic groups, Cuban American voters tend to vote more Republican. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 58% of Cuban American voters affiliated as Republicans whereas only 32% of non-Cuban Hispanics affiliated as Republicans in 2020. A major reason for this discrepancy is that many Cuban immigrants are understandably fearful of large government after having lived under Fidel Castro’s highly repressive socialist regime. Their hopes for the political future of the United States are no different than any other citizen, yet their ideology for the means to achieve the more perfect union is shaped by their lived experiences. As one Cuban conservative from Florida put it in an interview with The Guardian, “We believe the government should be small, everyone should have the right to work, and private companies are what make a country grow.”
My point in all of this is not to convince you per se that conservative arguments are the best ones. Rather, my point is that we must consider the reasons why someone with opposing views might believe in the things they do before we judge them. Assuming the worst intentions in people only contributes to our hyperpolarized climate and makes it much harder for us to bring about meaningful change on important issues.