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“It's Us Against the World”: How Distrust in Americans versus People-In-General Shapes Competitive Foreign Policy Preferences

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Previous research has uncovered links between generalized distrust and preferences for competitive (vs. cooperative) action. However, based on individuals' tendency to hold consistent attitudes and to believe that their own political preferences are morally legitimate, it was hypothesized that the direction of the relationship between distrust and competitive foreign policy preferences would depend on which category individuals had in mind: Americans or people. Two correlational studies with American participants were consistent with this hypothesis. Study 1 showed that distrust in Americans versus people had qualitatively different relationships with support for competitive policy preferences (i.e., immigration control, militaristic action). Study 2 found that when the covariance between distrust in Americans and people was controlled, distrust in Americans predicted opposition to torture of suspected terrorists, whereas distrust in people predicted support for torture of suspected terrorists. Moreover, individual discrepancies between distrust in Americans versus people uniquely predicted support for torture. Finally, mediational analyses in both studies indicated that political conservatism explained the effects between distrust in Americans versus people and competitive policy preferences. It is argued that distrust in Americans and distrust in people are distinct but complementary bases of Americans' moral-political reasoning.
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Keywords: generalized trust; immigration policy; legitimacy; political morality; war on terror

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of California, Los Angeles

Publication date: December 1, 2007

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