Skip to main content

Personality and Political Participation: The Mediation Hypothesis

Abstract

Recent analyses have demonstrated that personality affects political behavior. According to the mediation hypothesis, the effect of personality on political participation is mediated by classical predictors, such as political interest, internal efficacy, political discussion, or the sense that voting is a civic duty. This paper outlines various paths that link personality traits to two participatory activities: voter turnout in European Parliament elections and participation in protest actions. The hypotheses are tested with data from a large, nationally representative, face-to-face survey of the Spanish population conducted before and after the 2009 European Parliament elections using log-linear path models that are well suited to study indirect relationships. The results clearly confirm that the effects of personality traits on voter turnout and protest participation are sizeable but indirect. They are mediated by attitudinal predictors.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7

Notes

  1. The sample was stratified to autonomous region and size of municipality. Municipalities were selected randomly as primary sampling units, and from those sections were selected with probability proportional to size. In the final stage a person was selected by performing a random walk through the section with quota on age and sex. The interviews were administered by an interviewer in the person's home. In the analyses that follow poststratification weights provided by the CIS are always applied. They weight for autonomous region, city size, sex, and age.

  2. Missing data were dealt with by the full-information maximum likelihood estimator employed by Latent Gold under the assumption of missing at random (MAR). Estimation proceeded by EM iterations, after which the algorithm switched to Newton–Raphson until convergence was attained. Before iterations, 10 random sets of starting values were generated and iterated by EM. From these 10 resulting estimates the set with the highest likelihood was chosen as a starting point for iterations.

  3. The full estimates and the Latent Gold output are available as an Online Appendix given under Supplementary material.

References

  • Agresti, A. (2002). Categorical data analysis. New York: Wiley-Interscience.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Allik, J., & McCrae, R. R. (2004). Toward a geography of personality traits: Patterns of profiles across 36 cultures. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 35(1), 13–28.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Beier, M. E., & Ackerman, P. L. (2001). Current-events knowledge in adults: An investigation of age, intelligence, and nonability determinants. Psychology and Aging, 16(4), 615–628.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bekkers, R. (2005). Participation in voluntary associations: Relations with resources, personality, and political values. Political Psychology, 26(3), 439–454.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Benet-Martinez, V., & John, O. P. (1998). Los Cinco Grandes across cultures and ethnic groups: Multitrait multimethod analyses of the Big Five in Spanish and English. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 729–750.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Benet-Martinez, V., & John, O. P. (2000). Toward the development of quasi-indigenous personality constructs: Measuring los cinco grandes in Spain with indigenous Castilian markers. American Behavioral Scientist, 44(1), 141.

    Google Scholar 

  • Berry, W. D., DeMeritt, J. H. R., & Esarey, J. (2010). Testing for interaction in binary logit and probit models: Is a product term essential? American Journal of Political Science, 54(1), 248–266.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Blais, A. (2010). Political participation. In L. LeDuc, R. G. Niemi, & P. Norris (Eds.), Contemporary democracies 3 (pp. 165–183). London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Blais, A., & Labbe-St-Vincent, S. (2011). Personality traits, political attitudes and the propensity to vote. European Journal of Political Research, 50(3), 395–417.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Buse, A. (1982). The likelihood ratio, Wald, and Lagrange multiplier tests: An expository note. The American Statistician, 36, 153–157.

    Google Scholar 

  • Caspi, A., & Roberts, B. W. (2001). Personality development across the life course: The argument for change and continuity. Psychological Inquiry, 12(2), 49–66.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Costa, P. T., Terracciano, A., & McCrae, R. R. (2001). Gender Differences in Personality Traits Across Cultures: Robust and Surprising Findings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(2), 322–331.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Croon, M. A. (1990). Latent class analysis with ordered latent classes. British Journal of Mathematical and Statistical Psychology, 43(2), 171–192.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Denissen, J. J. A., & Penke, L. (2008). Motivational individual reaction norms underlying the Five-Factor model of personality: First steps towards a theory-based conceptual framework. Journal of Research in Personality, 42(5), 1285–1302.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Denny, K., & Doyle, O. (2008). Political interest, cognitive ability and personality: Determinants of voter turnout in Britain. British Journal of Political Science, 38(2), 291–310.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Diani, M. (2004). Networks and participation. In D. A. Snow, S. A. Soule, & H. P. Kriesi (Eds.), The Blackwell companion to social movements (pp. 339–359). London: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gerber, A. S., Green, D. P., & Larimer, C. W. (2008). Social pressure and voter turnout: Evidence from a large-scale field experiment. American Political Science Review, 102(01), 33–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gerber, A. S., Huber, G. A., Doherty, D., Dowling, C. M., Raso, C., & Ha, S. E. (2011). Personality traits and participation in political processes. The Journal of Politics, forthcoming.

  • Gerber, A. S., Huber, G. A., Huberty, D., & Dowling, C. (2010). Personality and political attitudes: Relationships across issue domains and political contexts. American Political Science Review, 104(1), 111–133.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goodman, L. A. (1979). Simple models for the analysis of association in cross-classifications having ordered categories. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 74(367), 537–552.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hagenaars, J. A. (1993). Loglinear models with latent variables. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hagenaars, J. A., & McCutcheon, A. L. (2002). Applied latent class analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Hambrick, D. Z., et al. (2008). The roles of ability, personality, and interests in acquiring current events knowledge: A longitudinal study. Intelligence, 36(3), 261–278.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hampson, S. E., & Goldberg, L. R. (2006). A first large cohort study of personality trait stability over the 40 years between elementary school and midlife. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91(4), 763.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Heine, S. J., & Buchtel, E. E. (2009). Personality: The universal and the culturally specific. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 369–394.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Heinen, T. (1996). Latent class and discrete latent trait models: Similarities and differences. Sage Publications Inc.

  • Hibbing, M. V., Ritchie, M., & Anderson, M. R. (2011). Personality and political discussion. Political Behavior. doi:10.1007/s11109-010-9147-4.

  • John, O. P., Naumann, L. P., & Soto, C. J. (2008). Paradigm shift to the integrative Big-Five trait taxonomy: History, measurement, and conceptual issues. In O. P. John, R. W. Robins, & L. A. Pervin (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (3rd ed., pp. 114–158). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kitts, J. A. (2000). Mobilizing in black boxes: Social networks and participation in social movement organizations. Mobilization, 5, 241–257.

    Google Scholar 

  • Klandermans, B., & Oegema, D. (1987). Potentials, networks, motivations and barriers. American Sociological Review, 52, 519–531.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Krueger, R. F., & Johnson, W. (2008). Behavioral genetics and personality. In O. P. John, R. W. Robins, & L. A. Pervin (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (3rd ed., pp. 287–310). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lane, R. E. (1955). Political personality and electoral choice. American Political Science Review, 49(1), 173–190.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Levinson, D. J. (1958). The relevance of personality for political-participation. Public Opinion Quarterly, 22, 3–10.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lodi-Smith, J., & Roberts, B. W. (2007). Social investment and personality: A meta-analysis of the relationship of personality traits to investment in work, family, religion, and volunteerism. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11(1), 68.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Loehlin, J. C. (1992). Genes and environment in personality development. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mansbridge, J. (1980). Beyond adversary democracy. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • McClosky, Herbert. (1958). Conservatism and personality. The American Political Science Review, 52(1), 27–45.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McCrae, R. R., & Costa Jr, P. T. (1997). Personality trait structure as a human universal. American Psychologist, 52(5), 509–516.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McCrae, R. R., et al. (2000). Nature over nurture: Temperament, personality, and lifespan development. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 173–186.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McCrae, R. R., et al. (2005). Universal features of personality traits from the observer’s perspective: Data from 50 cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 547–561.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Medland, Sarah. E., & Hatemi, Peter. K. (2009). Political science, behavior genetics and twin studies: A methodological primer. Political Analysis, 17, 191–214.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Milbrath, L. W. (1965). Political participation: How and why do people get involved in politics?. Chicago: Rand McNally and Company.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mondak, J. J. (2010). Personality and the foundations of political behavior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Mondak, J. J., Canache, D., Seligson, M. A., & Hibbing, M. V. (2011). The participatory personality: Evidence from Latin America. British Journal of Political Science, 41(1), 211–221.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mondak, J. J., & Halperin, K. D. (2008). A framework for the study of personality and political behaviour. British Journal of Political Science, 38(2), 335–362.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mondak, Hibbing, J. J. M. V., Canache, D., Seligson, M. A., & Anderson, M. R. (2010). Personality and civic engagement: An integrative framework for the study of trait effects on political behavior. American Political Science Review, 104(1), 85–110.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ozer, D. J., & Benet-Martínez, V. (2006). Personality and the prediction of consequential outcomes. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 401–421.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Raftery, A. E. (1995). Bayesian model selection in social research [with discussion]. In P. V. Marsden (Ed.), Sociological methodology (pp. 111–195). Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rammstedt, B., & John, O. P. (2007). Measuring personality in one minute or less: A 10-item short version of the Big Five Inventory in English and German. Journal of Research in Personality, 41, 203–212.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rizopoulos, D. (2009). ltm: Latent Trait Models under IRT. R package. Version 0.9-3, 9 December 2009.

  • Roberts, B. W., Walton, K., & Bogg, T. (2005). Conscientiousness and health across the life course. Review of General Psychology, 9, 156–168.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Roberts, B. W., Walton, K., & Viechtbauer, W. (2006). Patterns of mean-level change in personality traits across the life course: A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 1–25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schmitt, D. P., et al. (2007). The geographic distribution of Big Five personality traits: Patterns and profiles of human self-description across 56 nations. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 38(2), 173.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schmitt, D. P., et al. (2008). Why can’t a man be more like a woman? Sex differences in Big Five personality traits across 55 cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94(1), 168.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sniderman, P. M. (1975). Personality and democratic politics. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Terracciano, A., McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T. (2009). Intra-individual change in personality stability and age. Journal of Research in Personality, 44(1), 1–37.

    Google Scholar 

  • Terracciano, A., et al. (2005). National character does not reflect mean personality trait levels in 49 cultures. Science, 310, 96–100.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Van Aelst, P., & Walgrave, S. (2001). Who is that (wo)man in the street? From the normalisation of protest to the normalisation of the protester. European Journal of Political Research, 39(4), 461–486.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Van der Ark, L. A. (2007). Mokken scale analysis in R. Journal of Statistical Software, 20(11), 1–19.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vecchione, M., & Caprara, G. V. (2009). Personality determinants of political participation: The contribution of traits and self-efficacy beliefs. Personality and Individual Differences, 46(4), 487–492.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Verba, S., Schlozman, K. L., & Brady, H. E. (1995). Voice and equality: Civic voluntarism in American politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vermunt, J. K., & Magidson, J. (2000). Latent Gold user’s guide. Belmont, MA: Statistical Innovations Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vermunt, J. K., & Magidson, J. (2005). Technical guide for Latent GOLD 4.0: Basic and advanced. Belmont, MA: Statistical Innovations Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wolak, J., & Marcus, G. E. (2007). Personality and emotional response: Strategic and tactical responses to changing political circumstances. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 614(1), 172.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Yamagata, S., et al. (2006). Is the genetic structure of human personality universal? A cross-cultural twin study from North America, Europe, and Asia. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90(6), 987.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

We thank the anonymous reviewers and the editors whose careful comments grealy helped improving the manuscript. For comments on previous versions we thank André Blais, Karen Jusko and the participants of the 2010 ECPR Joint Sessions of Workshops on Personality and Voter Turnout, the 2010 ISPP Conference, and the Research Forum at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra. The paper would not have been possible without the support of the Spanish Centro de Investigaciones Sociologicas, the European Science Foundation (07-HumVIB-FP-004 “Voter turnout and abstention in context”), and the Research and Expertise Center for Survey Methodology at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra. The usual caveat applies.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Aina Gallego.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (HTML 340 kb)

Appendix: Question Wording of English Original Ten-Item Big Five Inventory (BFI-10)

Appendix: Question Wording of English Original Ten-Item Big Five Inventory (BFI-10)

Personality (BFI-10)

I see myself as someone who

  • … is reserved

  • … is generally trusting

  • … tends to be lazy

  • … is relaxed, handles stress well

  • … has few artistic interests

  • … is outgoing, sociable

  • … tends to find fault with others

  • … does a thorough job

  • … gets nervous easily

  • … has an active imagination

  • Disagree strongly (0)

  • Disagree a little (1)

  • Neither agree nor disagree (2)

  • Agree a little (3)

  • Agree strongly (4)

See Tables 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

Table 2 Variables used in the study and their assumed measurement levels
Table 3 Conditional probabilities of choosing each category of the two observed indicators of efficacy, given the latent variable
Table 4 Measurement of protest participation
Table 5 Loglinear effects of personality traits on predictors of voting
Table 6 Loglinear effects of personality traits on predictors of protest participation

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Gallego, A., Oberski, D. Personality and Political Participation: The Mediation Hypothesis. Polit Behav 34, 425–451 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-011-9168-7

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-011-9168-7

Keywords

  • Personality
  • Voter turnout
  • Protest participation
  • Political psychology
  • Path models