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Open versus Closed: Personality, Identity, and the Politics of Redistribution

Path breaking new book published by Lavine and Federico
March 22, 2017

Open vs Closed Book Cover

Open vs Closed Book Cover
Open vs Closed

According to advanced praise, Open versus Closed: Personality, Identity, and the Politics of Redistribution is a path breaking new book written by University of Minnesota Department of Political Science Professors and Political Psychologists Howard Lavine and Christopher Federico.

This book demonstrates when and why self-interest does and doesn't have a strong impact on economic policy preferences. Common sense might lead one to assume that someone with a high income would support lower taxes on high income earners. However, the lack of a strong and consistent effect of self-interest on economic preferences has long puzzled social scientists, and this model, among other things, provides fresh insight into why this is the case. Lavine and Federico provide a new theory of the dispositional, or internal, sources and political dynamics associated with the formation and change of economic policy preferences.

Their work has led to popular articles in places like the Washington Post, where they show how their model helps to understand why many of Donald Trump's supporters accept his liberal economic positions, such as safeguarding Social Security. Lavine and Federico argue that those with strong needs for order, certainty and security (i.e., those who are dispositionally “closed”) but who do not closely follow politics should seek protection from the government in the economic sphere, as Trump's supporters do.

Open versus Closed is important because debates over redistribution, social welfare, and market regulation are central to American politics. Lavine and Federico show that the answers to questions like, “Why do some of us prefer a large role for government in the economic life of the nation while others prefer a smaller role?” are not always what they seem. They show how deep-seated personality traits underpinning the culture wars over race and immigration, sexuality, gender roles, and religion influence debates about economics - binding cultural and economic preferences together in unexpected ways. Integrating insights from both psychology and political science - and twenty years of observational and experimental data - the authors reveal the deeper motivations driving attitudes toward government.

The unique perspective of political psychologists like Lavine and Federico lies in understanding how psychological and political forces interact to influence mass political behavior. One can not understand how psychological factors affect politics without understanding, for example, how elite entrepreneurs (e.g., members of Congress; partisan media) frame political events and issues. The reverse is also true: Lavine and Federico believe that one can not understand the impact of political forces (e.g., a presidential campaign) without at least some recourse to psychological theories of individual and group behavior. Thus, it is the two sets of forces acting together or jointly that makes political psychology unique.