By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
President Trump is doing great, keeping all his promises, even as he is beset with interference from dishonest investigations. He is also failing horribly, embracing national callousness and international isolation while scandals drag his administration into chaos. Either can be treated as absolute truth, depending on who you're talking to. The sides of the political spectrum have never been more divided, and polling backs it up: Conservatives and liberals are worlds apart. These sharpening distinctions create a situation where political leaning is one of the more salient things to know about a potential juror. It isn't just the attitudes about specific policies that separate liberals and conservatives that matter. Rather, it is a difference in worldview. Conservatives and liberals can have markedly different foundational attitudes about the nature of community and the implications of individual responsibility. That frequently translates into different case-relevant attitudes. In criminal cases and some civil cases, the tendency for conservatives to be more punitive, for example, is well known. Those on the right are more likely to ascribe behavior to individual choice rather than to outside factors, and are more likely to support extreme punishments and verdicts that would potentially "send a message."
New research (Silver & Silver, 2017), however, shows that this relationship between political leaning and punitiveness might be a spurious correlation. The article, whose title asks the question, "Why Are Conservatives More Punitive Than Liberals?" suggests that it isn't that political leaning causes the punitiveness that impacts your case, rather there is a third factor influencing both punitiveness and political leaning. That third factor is your preferred style of moral reasoning. In a study of 2,489 participants, controlling for other factors influencing punitiveness (like sex, race, ethnicity, and education), the authors found that support for greater punitiveness stems from participants' moral foundations, and not from the associated political leaning. "The strong empirical relationship typically observed between conservatism and punitiveness," they write, "may reflect individuals' moral orientations rather than a causal relationship." In this post, I'll take a look at these results which have some practical implications for both jury selection and trial advocacy.