Oddly enough, there is far more research available on this particular topic than one would imagine. Given the number of sex scandals involving high-ranking political figures over the last 20 or so years, it’s no wonder that any number of scholars have attempted to isolate the ideological causes that lead to this behavior. One of these scholars in particular, Jonathan Haidt, has produced some fascinating results.
Haidt was born near the end of the Baby Boom generation in October of 1963. This is significant as his birth occurred a scant month before the assassination of President John F Kennedy. Kennedy, a Liberal Democrat, began his term of office on the cusp of a new era of liberalism and social change. After his death, many would wonder how our country would have been different had he lived.
Years later, we would take even more interest in Kennedy’s extramarital affairs. It is now widely known that he and his brother Bobbie, then Attorney General of the U.S. and later a presidential candidate in his own right, both had torrid love affairs with Hollywood film legend Marilyn Monroe, among others. Until the 1970s and 1980s, private relationships of the Presidents of the U.S. and other public figures were just that; private.
Is everybody doing it?
By now, the public is aware that many of our political leaders have feet of clay. We know today that even our beloved four-term President Franklin Roosevelt, had numerous dalliances while in office. We’ve also learned that his wife Eleanor, a great leader in her own right, fooled around as well and was more than likely a lesbian.
This behavior, of course, isn’t confined just to politicians. Consider Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, and other high-ranking members of major national religious organizations. Today we bear witness in the news, online, and especially in the tabloid press to all manner of unsavory and deceitful behavior.
These sexual liaisons and extramarital encounters have caused a number of prominent politicians to leave public office; most notable on the list is former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and Congressmen Anthony Weiner and David Wu. And certainly not the least important on the list of high-ranking public embarrassments, let us not forget President Clinton, who survived an impeachment trial over his cover-up of an affair with a White House staffer.
It is interesting to note that, so far, all of the politicians named above are affiliated with the Democratic Party, the more liberal of the two major parties. By definition, the religious leaders named above would generally be considered to be Conservatives, and we would expect them to be active in any number of Republican Party causes.
Are liberals really having more fun?
This is where we can bring our discussion back to the research of Dr. Jonathan Haidt. The New York University-based Professor is best known for his Moral Foundations Theory. His theory attempts to unify attitudes and mores across individual, cultural, and societal lines. He focuses on the psychology of morality and its foundations.
In his work, Haidt has identified six underlying foundations of morality common to societies. He lists them as opposite pairs: care vs. harm; fairness vs. cheating; liberty vs. oppression; loyalty vs. betrayal; authority vs. subversion, which equals respect; and finally sanctity vs. degradation, which Haidt refers to as purity.
His implied discoveries in regards to this work are quite astounding! Using triple-blind surveys to measure his foundational qualities, Haidt found that the more liberal or left-wing people are, the more value they place on care and fairness. Liberals are less apt to value respect for authority, loyalty, and purity.
On the other hand, political conservatives or right-wing players generally place equal weight on all of Haidt’s moral values. Haidt found his findings were supported in other countries as well.
What does all of this mean? If we take Haidt’s assumptions literally, we would assume liberals would cheat on their spouses far more often than conservatives. While liberals value fairness, they care less for purity and place little value on loyalty; the loyalty expected by a husband or wife, partner, or significant other.
Do the General Social Surveys bear this out?
Yes! The GSS are the only national surveys that ask specific questions about marital fidelity. Americans who consider themselves to be extremely liberal are twice as likely to have an extramarital affair as those survey respondents who are listed as extremely conservative. The most recent GSS results determined that 26.4% of liberals admitted to having an affair while only 13% of their conservative brethren responded in the affirmative.
The GSS also confirmed that the two-to-one relationship of extramarital affairs between liberals and conservatives holds true for women as well as men. Another interesting fact brought out by these surveys is that, while men are much more likely to have an extramarital affair, liberal-leaning woman are more likely to stray outside their marriages than conservative men.