Media Releases

Personality predicts political preferences

June 9, 2010

TORONTO, ON – There is a strong rela­tion­ship between a voter’s pol­i­tics and his per­son­al­i­ty, accord­ing to new research from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to.

Researchers at UofT have shown that the psy­cho­log­i­cal con­cern for com­pas­sion and equal­i­ty is asso­ci­at­ed with a lib­er­al mind­set, while the con­cern for order and respect of social norms is asso­ci­at­ed with a con­ser­v­a­tive mind­set.

“Con­ser­v­a­tives tend to be high­er in a per­son­al­i­ty trait called order­li­ness and low­er in open­ness. This means that they’re more con­cerned about a sense of order and tra­di­tion, express­ing a deep psy­cho­log­i­cal motive to pre­serve the cur­rent social struc­ture,” says Jacob Hirsh, a post-doc­tor­al psy­chol­o­gy stu­dent at UofT and lead author of the study.

The study, which appears in this month’s Per­son­al­i­ty and Social Psy­chol­o­gy Bul­letin, may even lend some legit­i­ma­cy to the term, ‘bleed­ing-heart-lib­er­al.’

“Our data shows that lib­er­al­ism is more often asso­ci­at­ed with the under­ly­ing motives for com­pas­sion, empa­thy and equal­i­ty,” says Hirsh.

Researchers asked more than 600 par­tic­i­pants from Cana­da and the US to clas­si­fy their pol­i­tics as either small‑L lib­er­al or small‑C con­ser­v­a­tive instead of iden­ti­fy­ing with a par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal par­ty. They then admin­is­tered a per­son­al­i­ty test to deter­mine the par­tic­i­pants’ per­son­al­i­ty traits and their rela­tion­ship to polit­i­cal pref­er­ences.                  

Hirsh’s work con­tributes to accu­mu­lat­ing evi­dence sug­gest­ing polit­i­cal behav­iour is moti­vat­ed by under­ly­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal needs. “We are begin­ning to under­stand the deep­er moti­va­tions that are involved in deter­min­ing an individual’s polit­i­cal lean­ings”, says Hirsh. “While every­body has the same basic moti­va­tion­al archi­tec­ture, the rel­a­tive strength of the under­ly­ing sys­tems varies from one per­son to the next. If con­cerns for order and equal­i­ty are rel­a­tive­ly bal­anced, the indi­vid­ual is like­ly to be polit­i­cal­ly mod­er­ate; as either motive grows stronger than the oth­er, polit­i­cal pref­er­ences move fur­ther to either end of the spec­trum.”

“People’s val­ues are deeply embed­ded in their biol­o­gy and genet­ic her­itage,” says UofT Pro­fes­sor and co-author Jor­dan Peter­son. “This means you have to take a deep­er view of polit­i­cal val­ues and moral­i­ty in terms of where these motives are com­ing from; polit­i­cal pref­er­ences do not emerge from a sim­ple ratio­nal con­sid­er­a­tion of the issues.”

Peter­son argues that in order to main­tain a func­tion­ing soci­ety, both types of polit­i­cal moti­va­tion are required.

“The fact that vari­abil­i­ty still exists in these moti­va­tion­al sys­tems, from an evo­lu­tion­ary per­spec­tive, means that nei­ther one is suf­fi­cient on its own. There are costs and ben­e­fits to each polit­i­cal pro­file and both appear crit­i­cal to main­tain­ing an effec­tive bal­ance in soci­ety.”


For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Jacob Hirsh, lead author

Jor­dan B. Peter­son, co-author:

Michael Kennedy
Media Rela­tions Assis­tant