You Say Red, He Says Tight


Chris Mooney has a post on  another way to look at the polarization between the states, Forget Red State, Blue State: Is Your State “Tight” or “Loose”?

It is obvious to anyone who has traveled around the United States that cultural assumptions, behaviors, and norms vary widely. We all know, for instance, that the South is more politically conservative than the Northeast. And we at least vaguely assume that this is rooted in different outlooks on life.

But why do these different outlooks exist, and correspond so closely to different regions? In a paper recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (and discussed more here), psychologists Jesse R. Harrington and Michele J. Gelfand of the University of Maryland propose a sweeping theory to explain this phenomenon. Call it the theory of “tightness-looseness”: The researchers show, through analysis of anything from numbers of police per capita to the availability of booze, that some US states are far more “tight”—meaning that they “have many strongly enforced rules and little tolerance for deviance.” Others, meanwhile, are more “loose,” meaning that they “have few strongly enforced rules and greater tolerance for deviance.”

He later described the difference between people in loose versus tight states:

Citizens of “tight” states tend to be more “conscientious,” prizing order and structure in their lives. Citizens of “loose” states tend to be more “open,” wanting to try new things and have new experiences.

Other major distinguishing factors between “tight” and “loose” states:

  • Tight states have higher incarceration rates and higher execution rates.
  • Tight states have “lower circulation of pornographic magazines.”
  • Tight states have “more charges of employment discrimination per capita.”
  • Tight states produce fewer patents per capita, and have far fewer “fine artists” (including “painters, illustrators, writers”).
  • Most striking of all, the authors found “a negative and linear relationship between tightness and happiness” among citizens. Put more simply: People in loose states are happier.

It might be new terminology, but it really is the old blue versus red state divide, and looking at the map it is no coincidence that the red states overlap with the old slave states. The fundamental ideological differences in this country are between liberty and authoritarianism. All sorts of different ways have been devised to describe the same thing. Here it is tight versus loose. George Lakeoff previously described it as conservatives following the strict father model while liberals follow the nurturing parent model.

It all comes down to the same thing. Liberals, who vote Democratic and are more predominant in the blue states, especially on the coasts, support freedom while conservatives, who vote Republican and are more predominant in the red states, support authoritarianism. Conservatives might talk about wanting freedom and limited government, but what they really mean by freedom is the freedom to impose their views upon others, and their idea of small government is never too small to remain out of our bedrooms.  The map above might use different colors, but with some exceptions it is basically the old red versus blue state map. Some factions of conservatism are more libertarian-leaning, leading to some differences.