There is, however, a third explanation worth pondering: that the emotional requirements of acting are conducive to progressive politics. “The overwhelmingly liberal orientation of actors,” Professor Ross has written, “can be partially understood as a byproduct of the demands of their craft. Playing a variety of characters, many of whom they did not necessarily like, fostered a sense of empathy and ability to understand issues and people outside their personal experience.”
Professor Ross suggests that empathy develops as actors gain experience on the job, but we can also speculate that empathetic people are more likely to become actors. Either way, is there any evidence that empathy correlates with liberal ideology?
Surveys show that liberals see themselves, anyway, as more empathetic and kindhearted than conservatives, a self-conception reinforced by political rhetoric. But in a recent paper, the psychologist Adam Waytz and his colleagues report a more nuanced finding: The main thing distinguishing liberals and conservatives in this regard isn’t how empathetic they are overall; rather, the key difference is how much empathy they feel for specific groups. Where conservatives empathize foremost with family members and country, liberals extend the bounds of empathy to include friends, the socially disadvantaged and citizens of the world, to whom they’d like government to lend a hand.
The circle of empathy is larger for liberals than for conservatives. Or rather, those for whom the circle of empathy expands beyond local family and tribe become characterized as liberals. Those for whom life is a zero-sum game between us and the world become characterized as conservatives.