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Your personality and age say a lot about your political attitudes: How personality and age play a role on voting tendencies

In the IDA course "Dynamics of Individual Differences", students write a blog post on a topic of their interest that is related to an aspect that differs between individuals and changes across the lifespan. Enjoy reading the blog post of Ekin!

“A vote is like a rifle; its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.”
Theodore Roosevelt

Have you ever wondered why people differ in their attitudes towards politics? No matter where you live in the world politics seems to be a universally opposing topic. Some people hate talking about boring, repetitive political non-sense while others passionately engage in political discussions and talk about it for hours. There are endless reasons why people have different opinions on politics. Some want to change the way how things are currently, some disagree with the current political climate while others have better things to worry about and could not care less. Going back to the question at the beginning of the paragraph, have you ever thought why people have different ways to view politics? Specifically, did you know that these differences in attitudes lie partially on personality and aging?

Personality traits have an influence on many aspects of individuals’ lives and political attitudes is no exception. Personality traits have an important role in altering people’s thoughts, choices, and attitudes. The Big Five Model of personality looks at personality in five different factors: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. Each factor or trait causes different behavioral characteristics. That being said, the relationship between personality and political attitudes is not always simple and consistent.

Extraversion is related to higher voting turnout, meaning that extraverted people are likely to participate in elections (Ha et al. 2013). People with higher extraversion scores tend to be assertive, talkative, and sociable. The voting turnout is likely explained by extraverts wanting to express and support their political ideas. The other personality traits, however, does not signify such a straightforward relationship like extraversion. For instance, there are contradictory results of political participation and voter turnout of agreeable people. Mondak and Halperin (2008) and Gerber and colleagues (2011) found that agreeable people tend to not vote while Steinbrecher and Schoen (2010) found the opposite. However, there is different results for other types of political participation (e.g., attending rallies, contacting officials, donating money). Some research shows that agreeable people are more likely to participate in politics because they possess altruistic, compliant and sympathetic characteristics (Blais & Labbé-St-Vincent, 2011; Fowler, 2006). Other findings show that agreeable people tend to have lower levels of political participation as a result of prioritizing conflict avoidance (Blais & Labbé-St-Vincent, 2011; Mutz, 2002; Ulbig & Funk, 1999). Similar to agreeableness, conscientiousness also presents mixed results. Some studies did not find a meaningful relationship between conscientiousness and voter turnout (Anderson, 2009; Gallego & Oberski, 2011; Mattila et al., 2011; Mondak & Halperin, 2008; Steinbrecher & Schoen 2010) while another study found a negative relationship to turnout (Gerber et al., 2011), meaning, conscientious people did not prefer to vote. You would expect conscientious individuals to be dutiful and complying to norms and because of this, different results of voter turnout of conscientious people is unpredictable. Openness, again, seems unrelated to voter turnout (Ha et al., 2013), but one U.S. study found a positive relationship between openness and voter turnout (Mondak et al., 2010). Finally, emotional stability (the inverse of neuroticism) presents contradictory results for voter turnout, with some reporting a negative relationship (Mondak et al., 2010) and some reporting a positive relationship (Gerber et al., 2011).

Another aspect of political views of individuals is the political ideology one supports. Just like political participation, the political ideology of a person is also associated with his/her personality. Research displayed that extraversion is associated with more conversative political attitudes and openness is associated with less conservative political attitudes (Soldz & Vaillant, 1999). It is not that surprising that individuals with higher openness trait would have less conservative political attitudes. The negative relationship between openness and conservative values can be explained with the fact that people with lower openness score are likely to accept tradition and be closed to new ideas and change, and therefore display more conservative attitudes. The positive link between extraversion and conservative political ideology, however, is unexpected. Another study found consistent results of a positive relationship between openness and liberal ideology (De Neve, 2013). The same study also found that people with high conscientiousness levels tend to vote conservative. Isn’t it fascinating that personality traits can be predictors of one’s political ideology?

Another interesting part of this topic is how personality change over time influences these attitudes. Do effects of personality change shape people’s voting tendency and which ideology they support? Does openness have the same effect on the decision to participate in elections or supporting liberal ideologies at the age of 30 and 50? Unfortunately, it is not easy to answer these questions. Research shows that as people age, they tend to have more conservative ideologies (Peltzman, 2019). Older people also tend to participate more in elections compared to younger people (Leighley & Nagler, 2013). When the personality trait change over time is examined, we usually see a pattern of increase in emotional stability, conscientiousness and agreeableness and decrease in openness and extraversion (Wortman et al., 2012; Allemand, Zimprich & Hendricks, 2008). Since all of these are results of separate studies, it is hard to make concrete conclusions. We can hypothesize that the decrease in openness might be parallel to voting more conservative and increase in conscientiousness might be parallel to increases in election participation as people age. However, this should be considered with caution because this is an interpretation derived from different studies, and therefore it is not realible to use this as a scientifically accurate representation of the change of personality and its effects on political tendencies. Unfortunately, there are no studies that investigate the change of personality and how this change shapes political attitudes and behaviors as people age. Researchers should focus on this relationship to make predictions of how different personality traits at different ages will alter election participation and political ideology.

Regardless of missing links in research it is undeniable that personality and aging influence people’s political behaviors and the way people view politics. It is interesting to see personality and aging play a role in determining political attitudes. Considering the research oftentimes paints a puzzling picture, researchers should conduct studies that better examine how these constructs are related to each other and how they are subject to change. It is surprising that there are no studies that directly look at how personality changes over time and how these changes translate into political attitudes. There are a lot that still needs to be answered. Despite these shortcomings, previous research makes one thing clear: personality traits are not necessarily stable, and people change in their political attitudes over time. This shows that it is important to look further into this topic, because for everyday people, it is interesting to understand more about their political behaviors, and it provides essential information for how political candidates and their teams should approach people with different personality traits and different ages. Information on this topic could be used by political parties to tailor their election campaigns better for people with specific personality traits and age groups. In conclusion, there is a lot that goes into an individual’s decision to whether to vote in elections or not and what political ideology they support and personality and dynamic changes over time play a role in these decisions.


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Steinbrecher, M., & Schoen, H. (2010). Personality and turnout in Germany: Evidence from the 2009 federal election. Typescript, University of Mannheim.

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Wortman, J., Lucas, R. E., & Donnellan, M. B. (2012). Stability and change in the Big Five personality domains: evidence from a longitudinal study of Australians. Psychology and aging, 27(4), 867.

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