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The Liberal Font

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Have you noticed that news organizations, especially the TV ones, try to make a political conflict out of every little thing? Doesn’t matter the issue, as long as they can get a “debate” out of it.

CNN, for example, tells us that “people see even fonts as liberal or conservative”.

Researchers have found that people perceive certain fonts and font styles as more liberal and others as more conservative.

Serif fonts, or the ones with the little flourishes at the end of letters, are seen as more conservative, while sans serif fonts, the ones without the flourishes are seen as more liberal, according to a study published in the journal Communication Studies last month.

For example, study participants saw Times New Roman as more conservative than Gill Sans. Blackletter, which looks like it belongs on a newspaper masthead, was seen as the most conservative font, while Sunrise, a cartoonish-looking script, was seen as the most liberal.

Times New Roman as an example seems rather obvious. That font has always been about the most conservative choice anyone could make. After all, it’s based on a typeface designed for the New York Times (not called “The Gray Lady” for nothing) and was the default selection in the original version of Microsoft Word.

Screen Shot 2020 01 29 at 1 36 46 PM

As for Sunrise, it’s certainly not a font you’d expect in a newspaper, but does that make it “liberal”. And where on the political spectrum do we put Comic Sans?

So, what factors did the researchers find that might make a font liberal or conservative? It’s really not that hard to figure out.

Jubilat was the font that Bernie Sanders used in his 2016 presidential campaign, while Century Gothic was similar to a font that Barack Obama used in his 2008 presidential campaign, researchers said.

So naturally, Jubilat was viewed as more liberal than Times New Roman, even though they’re both serif fonts. And Century Gothic was viewed as more liberal than Gill Sans, even though they’re both sans serif fonts.

Meaning that it’s probably not the font itself that caused their subjects to view it as “left” or “right”, but who is using it. Guilt by association, as it were.

The bottom line to all this is that graphic designers have always put great effort into creating textual elements that could help their clients attract attention and send subtle messages, especially in advertising. There’s absolutely no surprise that those employed by political candidates do the same.

However, trying to assign specific fonts a place on the political spectrum seems like just one more attempt on CNN’s part to create partisan conflict where none really exists.

The image is by Leslie Andrachuk, and is a free download from Pixabay. Sometimes the font used is just a convenient choice. And, while I have your attention, Democratic primaries are coming soon in many states. Make sure you are registered and vote.

1 Comment

  1. Jen

    This post reminded me of a chat I had with one of my cousins some years ago (maybe 8?). She lives in east Texas, is fairly conservative and very religious as well as extremely healthy and focused on the environment. When Toyota started making the Prius, she bought one. She thought it would be better for the environment. Her father asked her, “Why did you buy that liberal car?” She was really surprised as it hadn’t occurred to her that her car was liberal or not. We really do need to label everything, don’t we?

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