We all carry stereotypes about people of different political persuasions. Are conservatives more persnickety about neatness and less tolerant of difference? Are liberals more loosey-goosey with their morals and less inclined to hoist a flag on their front lawn? It is wrong to over-generalize, of course: liberals can be patriots, and conservatives can be welcoming to diversity. But keeping in mind obvious caveats about exceptions and outliers, are there generalizations worth making about personality traits and preferences associated with political ideology? Can your non-political self predict your politics?
Jonathan Haidt and Chris Wilson have a nifty interactive quiz available here that tries to predict your political leanings based on 12 continuum-based responses. Here they describe part of their method in developing the assessment:
We created this survey by drawing on several sources. Research by Sam Gosling, at the University of Texas, has found that liberals generally score higher than conservatives on the trait of “openness to experience.” They are more likely to seek out new experiences (such as fusion cuisine), choose to watch documentaries, or enjoy art museums. They have less conventional notions of what is proper in a romantic relationship, so solo pornography consumption is OK. Conservatives are more likely to stick with what is familiar, what is tried and true. Hence, they are more likely to use a PC than a Mac and are more likely to stick with that PC’s default browser, Internet Explorer. Conservatives score higher than liberals on the trait of conscientiousness. They are more organized (neat desks), punctual, and self-controlled (rather than emphasizing self-expression).
Some of the items are frustrating to respond to. This one in particular:
I believe that self-expression is more important than self-control.
I think both of these are pretty important in human life. More than that, controlling oneself is in some ways a prerequisite to effective self-expression. (I had to control my desire to relax after a long day so I could put up this blog post.) So I had a hard time deciding whether to agree or disagree with this statement. With other questions I felt on surer footing. My result, which seemed about right, was 83 percent liberal, 17 percent conservative:
How well does it work? The authors are pleased to report these findings:
It works! Our analysis of 17,000 responses from readers who chose to report their actual ideology found a strong correlation (r=0.604, for those of you keeping score) between a person’s self-reported ideology and the output of the quiz. This is a particularly strong correlation given the wide degree of personal variation in taste that is intrinsic to this sort of research.
The biggest weakness we discovered is that the results from our survey were less distributed across the spectrum than the figures for people’s self-reported ideologies. A person who reported themselves as “very liberal” or “very conservative” tended to receive scores that were artificially close to the center. As of this update, the quiz now employs a basic statistical correction to more accurately reflect the extremity of one’s politics. The “direction” of the results—whether you’re more conservative or more liberal—is unchanged.
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