Right-wing people are more likely to respond to “political bullshit” – meaningless phrases uttered by politicians hoping to win votes – a new study has found.

Yes, “political bullshit” is the phrase the researchers from the University of Amsterdam settled on, not just in their comms but the study itself. 

“Philosophers conceptualized bullshit as persuasive communication that has no regard for truth, knowledge, or evidence,” it begins. 

“In psychology, research mostly investigated pseudo-profound bullshit, but no study has examined bullshit in the political context.”

To find out whether it works on voters, the researchers came up with three tests “to estimate how receptive a person can be to political bullshit, and how this related to their political ideology and support for neoliberalism, populism, and voting behaviour”.

The first test involved asking how persuasive and profound 10 political slogans were – things like ‘To politically lead the people means to always fight for them’. 

“Though the sentence looks as if it conveys something, it is not clear what it means to fight for people.” the authors said. “It is vague, abstract, and essentially meaningless, as every political bullshit is.”

In the second test, participants were presented with five slogans about a fake country, Gonfel, such as: “For better and stronger Gonfel!” 

The third test “contained three long political programmes that did not have any sensible meaning”. 

“We constructed these programs to be meaningless and empty,” the authors wrote in the study, published in the Journal of Social and Political Psychology

Analysis of the results found participants who expressed support for free markets and neoliberalism were more likely to respond positively to “all political bullshit measures”, including “pseudo-profound bullshit”, measured in the study. 

How the data lined up. (Image: Journal of Social and Political Psychology)

“Increased receptivity to political bullshit was associated with a higher probability to vote for right-wing candidates/parties,” the authors concluded. “Especially neoliberals are more receptive to these statements.”

The research didn’t look into whether right-wing politicians are more likely to deploy bullshit in their campaigning – but said it appears it’s excreted by all sides.

But just why right-wing people fall for bullshit isn’t clear. A couple of possible explanations are noted in the study.

“One possibility would be the above-mentioned ideological differences which showed that right-wing individuals engage in simpler information processing. Given that individuals on the right have a more intuitive thinking style and rely more on heuristic processing, it might be that they fail to detect the vagueness of political bullshit… 

“However, there are also reasons why conservatives and right-wing voters would be less receptive to vague political rhetoric: they have a larger need for certainty and closure, which is the opposite of political bullshit. 

“Therefore, the exact mechanism remains to be investigated by future research.”