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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Vicarious Justifications for Prejudice in the Application of Democratic Values

White MH, Crandall CS, & Davis NT.
September 2021. 


Democratic values are widely-endorsed principles including commitments to protect individual
freedoms. Paradoxically, the widespread normativity of these ideas can be used to justify
prejudice. With two nationally representative U.S. samples, we find that prejudiced respondents
defend another’s prejudiced speech, using democratic values as justification. This vicarious
defense occurs primarily among those who share the prejudice, and only when the relevant
prejudice is expressed. Several different democratic values (e.g., due process, double jeopardy)
can serve as justifications—the issue is more about when something can be used as a justification
for prejudice and less about what can be used as one. Endorsing democratic values can be a
common rhetorical device to expand what is acceptable, and protect what is otherwise
unacceptable to express in public.


Theories of values conceptualize them as principles that guide behavior (Maio, 2010;
Schwartz, 2012). But they can be bent to the will of strongly-held attitudes like prejudice. Values
are not always guiding principles that transcend situations; they can be normatively-loaded
rhetorical devices used to contest what is and is not acceptable to express. Although democratic
values are held in high regard in the abstract, citizens may accept norm violations when political
outcomes suit them (Graham & Svolik, 2020). We find that individuals strategically apply these
values to situations when it justifies shared prejudices.