Research by Monash University suggests Conservatives are more likely to be healthier, more willing to engage in physical activity, and have stronger intentions to quit smoking.
The latest research by Dr Eugene Chan in the Monash Business School, published in the Journal of Personal and Individual Differences, seeks to gain greater understanding of the role political orientation has on public health, and the various advertising cues that can encourage better lifestyle choices.
Three separate studies that measured the self-reported physical health conditions, physical activity engagement and smoking cessation intentions of more than 600 participants were conducted as part of the overall project.
Dr Chan, an expert in consumer behaviour, says the embedding of messages, phrases and imagery in public health advertising can awaken the conservative value of personal responsibility and improve the likelihood of positive behaviour change.
His findings are consistent with previous research in sociology and public health. But, Dr Chan demonstrated that personal responsibility may explain why.
“We certainly don’t believe that conservative personal responsibility is the only explanation for possible better health. However, we believe that it can play a role,” Dr Chan said.
Previous studies suggest individuals who have higher incomes tended to vote conservative and had access to a wider variety of health services. But Dr Chan believes that even priming people to think ‘conservatively’, even those who support a liberal ideology, can encourage a healthy lifestyle.
“The overweight and obesity crises have taken hold of Australia, the US and other parts of the world, so it’s vital to understand the various antecedents to health and social wellbeing – whether that be political, psychological or otherwise
There’s a notable gap in existing consumer behaviour literature that fails to identify how political orientation and ideology formulates a sense of self, and how this impacts consumption.”
Dr Chan’s research on political orientation shows that who we vote for at the ballot box can also affect how we see other aspects of our lives, including our physical health.
The first study sought to determine if self-reported political conservatism would correlate with self-reported physical health and importance of personal responsibility. More than 90 per cent of the 193 participants who held conservative views registered high levels of self-reported personal responsibility.
In a separate study, an additional 204 participants were measured on their decision-making in either taking the stairs or an elevator to their next destination, after completing a survey, and whether personal responsibility would mediate this effect.
Participants were told to take their completed survey up one floor to register their completion. They were encouraged to take the stairs, but they were a decent walk from the elevator, which was in close proximity.
Results showed that participants supporting the conservatives were more likely to take the stairs (52.9 per cent) compared to those supporting the liberals (36.3 per cent).
In the final study, 205 smokers were recruited and primed with both politically conservative and liberal messaging to assess their intentions of quitting smoking. To prime conservatism, words such as ‘traditional’ and ‘conventional’ were used; to prime liberalism, words such as ‘free’ and ‘left-wing’ were adopted.
Participants primed with political conservatism scored higher on intentions to quit smoking and the value of personal responsibility compared to liberals by more than half. The effect of mediation was significant.
“Our findings suggest that highlighting the concept of personal responsibility may motivate individuals to take this value into consideration at the time of decision-making, encouraging uptake of the public health promotion messages,” Dr Chan said.
“It’s hoped that this study can help marketers diversify their public health messages and encourage people to make better lifestyle choices.