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How we vote reveals more about our ourselves than we realize

By Staff | Oct 26, 2018

Lindsey Levitan speaks about her research in front of a class. Submitted photo.

SHEPHERDSTOWN — How we vote in this midterm election may reveal a lot about the people we surround ourselves with, according to Shepherd University Associate Professor of Psychology and Research Exposure Coordinator Lindsey Levitan.

Levitan has been researching how humans develop their political beliefs, since she was in her social psychology doctoral program at the University of Chicago.

“I knew I wanted to be a social psychologist and an attitudes researcher in college, and the attitudes I happened to be interested in were political attitudes. I’ve been doing research since I started graduate school, trying to understand how strongly we hold to our attitudes — whether they can be pushed over with time,” Levitan said on Monday afternoon in her office. “In middle school, I would argue with people about the motivation behind peoples’ attitudes.”

Today, Levitan does more lecturing than arguing at school, and is careful to state her research is not applicable to determining the results of the election. However, her research offers insight into why the previous election swayed in favor of the Republican party, and why this election’s results may show more representation by Democratic voters.

“What I’ve found in politics, is that some people have a strong attitude to one issue, but do not have a strong attitude on something else,” Levitan said, mentioning the people we surround ourselves with influence our openness to changing our stances on issues. “When people around us agree with us, we’re more wedded to our attitudes. But when our friends and family disagree with us, our attitudes are less certain. It prods us to gather more information, to think our opinions through a bit more. Shepherdstown’s a good place to hear a diversity of views.”

The one drawback of being surrounded by people with different viewpoints, is voters can be less confident of themselves, and may choose not to vote because of their uncertainty, according to Levitan.

“The only concern is that openmindedness can be connected with self doubt, and that can be connected with not voting. I have a friend from highschool who doesn’t vote because he doesn’t feel he knows enough. It is an interesting perspective that someone would say, ‘I have no perspective on this’ and ‘I’m not informed enough about that,'” Levitan said. “We want people to be certain of their attitudes, but we want them to be well-informed, too.”

With this election, as in the last, Levitan has seen political involvement encouraged by group events, including political rallies and marches on Washington. Like-minded people gather at these events, and their uniting under the same cause results in them feeling more confident about their beliefs. Although Democrats may anticipate the election favoring their party, due to the recent increase in their party’s political activism, Levitan said no one can be certain of how the election will turn out, because the people who speak loudly about politics are the minority, and often on the extreme right or left.

“We tend to misjudge the attitudes of the majority if we aren’t hearing them,” Levitan said, mentioning she does not believe the majority is as polarized as many voters may think.

“There is some research saying we are getting more polarized, but I think the public perception of how polarized we’re getting is overblown,” Levitan said. “We definitely have seen a big upswing in activism. Voting in the last election was particularly low, and people have decided to get involved with this election, because they were shocked by the results of the last election.”