Political Ideology and Support for Universal Health Care: The Roles of Thinking Styles and Executive Functioning in the Judgments of Older Adults

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In contemporary American politics, Democrats and Republicans have become increasingly polarized along ideological lines. This division is especially apparent in the debates surrounding the possibility of universal health care given the passage of the new health care reform bill this past year. Converging evidence from historical and psychological accounts of ideology suggest that differences in thinking styles are associated with ideological differences. Given their importance as a unique political cohort, as well as known age differences in information processing styles and executive functioning, older adults (N=86) completed self report measures and a verbal fluency task to elucidate the relationship between information processing styles, executive function, political ideology and support for universal health care over the period when the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was debated and then passed. We found that older adults' political beliefs formed cohesive ideologies along a liberal/conservative spectrum. Ideology significantly accounted for differences in party support for increased government funded healthcare, whereas understanding of the health care bill had no effect on participant support of the bill. We also found that preferences for rational thinking styles and maintained executive functioning were associated with liberal ideology in older adults. Moreover, rational processing and executive function were uniquely correlated with support for universal health care in addition to party affiliation. These results are discussed within the context of Cognitive-Experiential Self-Theory in addition to general psychological and sociological accounts of political beliefs in older adults.
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political ideology; Cognitive Experiential Self Theory; executive function; health care; older adults
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