By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Politics isn't just a good way to start an argument, it is also a pretty reliable predictor of general leanings in litigation. Out of all of the demographic traits that we have looked at -- factors like sex, race, education, and income -- reported voting behavior is in most cases the most reliable way to tell whether, as a baseline tendency, a given juror is more likely to favor a plaintiff or a defendant. Generally speaking, Democrats will be more open to a plaintiff's case and to higher damages, while Republicans will be more likely to side with the defense or with lower numbers. We have written in the past on several of the ways that differences in political orientation also translate into more subtle differences that are meaningful to litigators. Liberals and conservatives, for example, respond differently to fear appeals and have distinct thresholds of tolerance toward a variety of groups. Recent research (Stern, West & Schmitt, 2013) points to one additional difference in the ways liberals and conservative perceive group consensus, and the degree of motivation members of each group have to feel like they are unique. Conservatives tend to overestimate consensus, believing themselves to be part of a like-minded community. Liberals, on the other hand, tend to underestimate consensus, believing themselves to be unique individuals distinct from the mainstream.
Chadly Stern, Tessa West and Peter Schmitt of New York University conducted an online survey, asking participants to self-identify their political leanings, indicate their own agreement with a number of political and nonpolitical statements, and then estimate how much others of their own political persuasion would agree or disagree with those statements. Liberals believed that their own views differed substantially from other liberals, while they were actually quite similar. Conversely, conservatives believed that their own views were widely shared by those on their side, when there were actually some important differences. As the authors note, these individual differences between liberals and conservatives appear to be reflected in broader differences between liberal and conservative media outlets and social movements. Because jurors are reacting to cases both as individuals and as implied representatives of a community's judgment, these findings should add to litigators' repertoire for audience analysis and adaptation.