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Are left-wing people (liberals) more compassionate than right-wing people (conservatives)?

Quite a few differences in personality, typical behaviour and beliefs have been identified between people with left-wing and those with right-wing political views. Many have been highlighted in the recent book The Republican Brain which, despite the title and bias of the author, highlights strengths and weaknesses of those from both ends of the political spectrum and also suggests our society needs people from both ends of the political spectrum (or at least people with the personality traits that are typical from each end).

One difference that was not mentioned but which I'd like to propose is that left-leaning people have a stronger innate sense of compassion than right-leaning people. This could be viewed as an attack on conservatives but I’m more of the view that no amount of susceptibility to feeling compassion is right or wrong – people simply differ. Left-leaning people will view right-leaning people as lacking in compassion at times while those of the right often view those of the left as having too much compassion (the term ’bleeding heart’ is sometimes used in this context).

Consider some of the points of difference often associated with the left-right divide and how greater feelings of compassion in left-wing people could help explain these:
  • Left-wing people advocate more government welfare for the poor than right-wing people because they literally care more about people in need.
  • Right-wing people are more likely to approve of the death penalty because they feel less compassion for people who have committed crimes such as murder.
  • Left-wing people are more likely to approve of increased rights for gays because they care more about the happiness of other people.
  • Right-wing people are more likely to support military action because they feel less compassion for people hurt by war.
  • Left-leaning people tend to favour increased immigration to help those from poor or war-torn countries because they'd like to help these people more
The frequency and strength of feelings of compassion certainly do not explain all of the differences between left and right-leaning people but it may help explain many quite well.

It is, however, important to note that most right-leaning people do care about other people. It's simply that other priorities (or instincts) might influence their decisions and views more in comparison to compassion than in left-leaning people.

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