Do political affiliations matter in dating?

You are on a date with a wonderful man/woman. He/she is speaking, but you are gazing lovingly into his/her eyes thinking how lucky you are having finally met your perfect match. Then you hear him/her say this: “And that is why I think Sarah Palin would make a great president.”

How attracted are you now?

Empirically, it appears that married couples tend to share political beliefs and that those political beliefs are passed down to their children. Those observations alone suggest that when looking for a mate singles search within the pool of other singles that share their beliefs, just like they search within the pool of people who share their religious beliefs or have a similar level of education.

Thanks to the millions of singles who unwittingly reveal their mate preferences to researchers when they complete an online dating profile, this hypothesis can be tested. A new paper, forthcoming in the Journal of Evolution and Human Behavior, does just that and finds that for most people political beliefs is not something they choose to advertise to potential mates.

Using data from an online dating site that allows users to state politics as one of their “interests,” the authors find that only 14% of users choose to make that choice.
If people really do care about finding someone with similar political beliefs why do they appear unwilling to reveal those beliefs earlier in the mating game?

The authors of the paper give a few possible explanations for why this is the case (for example, singles may be afraid that they will screen out potential partners who will view their beliefs as a negative), but they ignore the fact that political “interest” appears on a list of 27 other interests that include “dining out”, “camping”, “cooking”, “wine tasting” and so on.
If I were reading this list and making my choices, I would interpret that purpose of the exercise is to indicate activities that I would like to do with my potential mate. I would also choose only a few items for fear that I look like I haven’t given much thought to the exercise or was not being very honest about my interests (i.e. that I was applying a shotgun approach to make sure I capture the biggest audience).

There is a very big difference between saying, “I have political views and I need to find someone that shares those views” and saying, “I am searching for a partner who enjoys discussing politics”.

Personally, I do need to find someone who shares my political beliefs but I would not rank an interest in politics over activities like traveling, cooking together or coffee and conversations. Very few people would, obviously, since political interests rank 23rd on the list of 27 choices (ranking between video gaming and business networking as expressed interests).

Even among the subset of people that were willing to explicitly state their political preference on their dating profile, the vast majority (57%) stated that their political belief is “middle of the road”. Another 10% stated that their belief as “some other viewpoint” (i.e. some other viewpoint than the varying degrees of conservative and liberal viewpoints that are given as options) and a few others chose “no answer”.

So among the roughly 50% of users who were willing to state a political belief, a very small number were willing to actually be definitive about what that belief was.

Who was willing to explicitly state a belief? Older daters (40 year olds were 4 percentage points more likely than 18 year olds); educated daters (those with college graduates were 15 percentage points more likely high school graduates); and those who also indicated an interest in religion and spirituality (13 percentage points more likely than those who did not).
Those with a higher income were more likely to report beliefs that are “middle of the road”. For example, a single who earns between $75,000 and $100,000 per year was 7 percentage points more likely to report political beliefs that were  “middle of the road” than one who earns between $25,000 and $35,000.

What is interesting though, is that this effect of income on expressing beliefs that are “middle of the road” is being driving predominantly by the behavior of women, and not men.
The authors argue that this evidence, and the evidence that showed that high income women expressed an interest in politics at a greater frequency than low income women, shows that women care more about finding a man who has a high income than men care about finding a woman who has a high income.

The authors write:


The more financially secure a woman is, the more likely she is to post political content in her dating profile. One potential reason this might be the case is because women who are more financially successful have less need for resources from potential mates.

So, being less desperate to find a husband, apparently, is a reasonable explanation for why high income women might express an interest in politics.

In reality, the only way we can determine people’s preferences in dating is not to observe their stated preferences but to observe the choices that they make on that market. Other studies have found big discrepancies between what people say they want and the choices they make when actually searching. The best example of this how many people say they do not care about their potential partner’s race and then only contact people of the same race as themselves.

The best way to test the hypothesis that people purposely match with others who share their political beliefs is to observe if they are more likely to send messages expressing interest to those who state those beliefs.

For me, I think I would rather wait until I got to know someone before talking about political beliefs and I certainly don’t need to be married to someone who votes the same way as me. In fact, I would be very concerned about a person who felt the need to vote the same way in every single election or even worse, the same way their parents voted in every election.

It doesn’t say much about the political process when being “middle of the road” is interpreted as a dating strategy rather than a willingness to actively engage in the political process.

Reference:

Klofstada, Casey; Rose McDermottb and Peter K. Hatemic (2011). “Do bedroom eyes wear political glasses? The role of politics in human mate attraction.” Evolution and Human Behavior (In Press).

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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.