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  • Nathan Irwin

Do Personality Traits Predict Ideology?

With the increased showmanship of politics, accompanying it has been an increase in the focus on politicians’ character, persona and personality. This focus begets the reciprocal question regarding the personality of voters and how one’s psychological disposition can influence voting behaviour or ideological leaning.

With the recent rise in populism and theatre that politics is descending into, understating the role of personality in ideology is an increasingly important and relevant area of political discourse.

We can use personality to predict general ideological preferences through the use of the Five-Factor Model of personality, namely conscientiousness, openness, neuroticism, agreeableness and extroversion.

Those who score highly on conscientiousness normally have a preference for tradition and an adherence to exiting norms, implying more conservative leanings. Those who score highly on the trait of openness to new experiences and agreeableness typically favour change and innovation over tradition and norms, as such, they are more likely to have a left leaning ideology.

Furthermore, general inclinations towards an anti-establishment ideology can be correlated with an individual’s low tendency to be agreeable. This was found to be due to those less agreeable people being more distrusting in general, thus more intolerant of supposed political classes and more uncooperative with political institutions.

In addition, the personality traits of agreeableness and openness have been found to indicate an inclination towards more prejudicial ideological tendencies. This was proposed to be a result of openness being related to nonconformity and unconventionality, thereby meaning that those scoring highly on these traits are less likely to conform with socially desirable ideological norms.

Personality traits cannot only indicate your general ideological preferences, but also predict the specific types of political parties that an individual would vote for.

This can most notably be seen with the correlation between a low scoring on the trait of agreeableness predicting an individual voting for populist parties. This is evidenced by the fact that those who are less agreeable have been found to be more likely to vote for the populist Tea Party in America and the populist PVV in the Netherlands.

Those who score high in the trait of agreeableness and neuroticism will favour more democratic systems of governance and will also vote for more socialist parties, whereas those who are more conscientious will vote for more conservative parties.

Furthermore, it has been shown that, due to their preference for traditional values and submissiveness to authority figures, individual’s scoring highly on the trait of conscientiousness were more likely to vote for parities with a right-wing authoritarian structure.

The scientific literature is clear. One's personality does have a large influence, if not the definitive influence on an individual's political leanings.

As a result, one has to ask to question of whether people follow political parties due to objective approval of certain ideologies or policies, or because their personality - constructed by genetics and socialisation - has dictated they will lean towards a certain end of the spectrum.

Author: Nathan Irwin

Nathan is a Politics and International Relations student at the University of Durham

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