Liberals, conservatives, and personality traits



  • kristen_a
When did you become a political lefty or righty? In college? In high school? Or in kindergarten?

A new study adds to growing evidence that political persuasions are closely linked to personality traits, and therefore may be determined early in life.

The study, in the October issue of the journal Personality and Individual Differences, examined voters in five European countries: Italy, Spain, Germany, Greece, and Poland. The researchers examined the gender, age, income, and education level of those who acknowledged voting for the main liberal or conservative party. They also used questionnaires to determine the personality profiles of the subjects, drawing on a standard assessment of personality traits known as the “big five” model. The big five traits are openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion, and neuroticism.

The best predictor of party preference wasn’t any of the socio-demographic characteristics—it was the personality trait “openness,” which in the big five model means curious, original, intellectual, creative, and open to new ideas. Openness was tightly linked with voting for the liberal party. The second-best predictor was the personality trait “conscientiousness”—organized, systematic, punctual, achievement-oriented, and dependable. Those high in conscientiousness were likely to vote for the conservative party.

“Although voting represents the product of a number of social and cultural factors, such as membership in families, groups, and communities, one should not underestimate the role of basic personality dispositions,” the authors wrote.

And those personality dispositions begin very early, the authors said, pointing to other research. The subjects of a 2006 study in the Journal of Research in Personality were 23-year-olds whose personalities had been evaluated in nursery school. The authors found a high correlation between personality traits in nursery school and political orientation at age 23.

A study in American Political Science Review in 2005 went further: its authors focused on identical and non-identical twins, and found that “political attitudes are influenced much more heavily by genetics than by parental socialization.”

Biology wasn't political destiny, the authors of the twins study wrote—but it was highly significant. And the prospects for eliminating the divide between the far left and right were “not promising,” they said, since people tend to choose mates with similar political attitudes, which means “no genetic melting pot exists for these traits.” The combination of genetic orientation and mating habits was, instead, more likely to “exacerbate the current divide.” But acknowledging that genetics influence political attitudes could “help to mute societal divisions,” the authors said, if political opposites recognize that differing political views are “not the result of willful bullheadedness but, rather, genetically driven differences in orientation.”

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