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Personality and the Strength and Direction of Partisan Identification

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Abstract

We examine the associations between personality traits and the strength and direction of partisan identification using a large national sample. We theorize that the relationships between Big Five personality traits and which party a person affiliates with should mirror those between the Big Five and ideology, which we find to be the case. This suggests that the associations between the Big Five and the direction of partisan identification are largely mediated by ideology. Our more novel finding is that personality traits substantially affect whether individuals affiliate with any party as well as the strength of those affiliations, effects that we theorize stem from affective and cognitive benefits of affiliation. In particular, we find that three personality traits (Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Openness) predict strength of partisan identification (p < 0.05). This result holds even after controlling for ideology and a variety of issue positions. These findings contribute to our understanding of the psychological antecedents of partisan identification.

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Notes

  1. Scholars have considered some important psychological sources of partisan affiliation. For example, a relative lack of a “partisan social identity” compared to an “independent social identity” helps explain why partisan “leaners” are different from “true” partisans (Greene 2000). However, the present research is unique in that it focuses on dispositional traits, which develop independently of political environments.

  2. Mondak (2010) and Mondak and Halperin (2008) also find evidence that this is the case.

  3. For example, Gerber et al. (2010a) find that the relationships between Big Five traits and political attitudes vary across racial groups. Similarly, Mondak et al. (2010) find that the relationships between Big Five traits and political participation depend on characteristics of the political environment. Each of these studies suggests that the attitudinal and behavioral consequences of dispositional traits depend on contextual factors.

  4. Elections in the United States are dominated by the Democratic and Republican parties. In the 2008 U.S. elections, 97.3% of votes cast in House races went to candidates from these parties, and a similar proportion went to candidates in gubernatorial (97.6%), Senate (96.6%), and presidential (98.5%) elections. From 1961 to 2008, politicians from parties other than the two major parties have only served 12 out of the 10,859 representative/terms in the House of Representatives and 5 of approximately 828 senator/terms in the Senate.

  5. Other studies in the U.S. and Europe have examined the associations between Big Five traits and vote choice or vote intention (Barbaranelli et al. 2007; Caprara et al. 1999; Schoen and Schumann 2007) or statewide vote returns (Rentfrow et al. 2009) and find similar relationships. In a German sample, for example, Schoen and Schumann find that those high on Openness and Emotional Stability tend to vote for liberal parties, whereas those high on Conscientiousness and Agreeableness tend to vote for conservative parties. We note that Schoen and Schumann’s finding that Emotional Stability is associated with affiliating with a liberal party conflicts with Mondak and Halperin’s (2008) finding of the inverse relationship.

  6. We have also investigated the direct effects of personality on directional party identification controlling for ideology. We find that once ideology is controlled for, the effects of Big Five personality traits on which party one chooses to identify with are greatly attenuated. See below for further details.

  7. The survey sample is constructed by first drawing a target population sample. This sample is based on the 2005–2007 American Community Study (ACS), November 2008 Current Population Survey Supplement, and the 2007 Pew Religious Life Survey. Thus, this target sample is representative of the general population on a broad range of characteristics including a variety of geographic (state, region, metropolitan statistical area), demographic (age, race, income, education, gender), and other measures (born-again status, employment, interest in news, party identification, ideology, and turnout). Polimetrix invited a sample of their opt-in panel of 1.4 million survey respondents to participate in the study. Invitations were stratified based on race, gender, and battleground status, with an oversample of nine battleground and early primary states (Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin). Those who completed the survey (approximately 2.5 times the target sample) were then matched to the target sample using nearest-neighbor matching based on the variables listed in parentheses above. Finally, weights were calculated to adjust the final sample to reflect the national public on these demographic and other characteristics (including correcting for the oversampling of battleground states). For more detailed information on this type of survey and sampling technique see Vavreck and Rivers (2008). In concrete terms, the weighted CCAP sample we use in our analysis appears similar in levels of political interest to that found in the weighted 2008 American National Election Study (ANES) time-series survey. In the September wave of the CCAP we find that 55% of respondents are “very much” interested in politics (variable = scap813, “How interested are you in politics?”). In the ANES pre-election survey, the comparable figure is 58% (variable = V0830001b, “How interested are you in information about what’s going on in government and politics?” = Extremely or very interested, restricted to reported registered voters).

  8. Trait pairs for each trait. Observed correlations in brackets; (R) indicates reverse scoring:

    • Extraversion: Extraverted, enthusiastic; Reserved, quiet (R) [r = 0.432]

    • Agreeableness: Sympathetic, warm; Critical, quarrelsome (R) [r = 0.221]

    • Conscientiousness: Dependable, self-disciplined; Disorganized, careless (R) [r = 0.395]

    • Emotional Stability: Calm, emotionally stable; Anxious, easily upset (R) [r = 0.467]

    • Openness: Open to new experiences, complex; Conventional, uncreative (R) [r = 0.267].

    We note that the TIPI was not designed with the intent of achieving high inter-item correlations. Rather, it was designed to (1) be brief; (2) achieve high test–retest reliability (as well as reliability between self- and peer-administered ratings); and (3) yield measures that are highly correlated with those obtained using much longer batteries (the correlations between TIPI measures and the 44-item Big Five Inventory range from 0.65 to 0.87; correlations with measures from the much longer, 240-item NEO PI-R range from 0.56 to 0.68). Therefore, because each question in the TIPI is designed to measure part of a broader Big Five trait, inter-item correlations between the two items used to measure each trait are less informative of the items’ reliability (Gosling 2009; more generally, see Kline 2000; Woods and Hampson 2005 on the misleading nature of alphas calculated on scales with only a small number of items). Table 7 in the Appendix reports sample correlations between the Big Five traits.

  9. The inclusion of state fixed effects is not material to the results we present in Tables 4, 5, and 6. That is, if state fixed effects are excluded, the size and statistical significance of the personality coefficients are largely unchanged. Results are available upon request.

  10. The inclusion in our analysis of income and education, which unlike gender, age, and race are not immutable characteristics, deserves special attention. We noted above research that finds that personality traits predict these outcomes. However, we believe that including them in the reported analysis is a conservative strategy for two reasons. First, it demonstrates that the effects of personality on the different outcomes we study are not due to the indirect effect of personality on earnings and educational attainment. Second, in practical terms, including income and education in the estimated models tends to yield more conservative estimates of the effect of personality on our outcomes of interest. (Parallel analysis excluding these measures appears in Appendix Tables 8 and 9.) We suppress the education and income indicators from the estimates presented in the body of the text for space reasons. Full results are available upon request.

  11. We have also repeated the analysis in column (1) using a 5-Point Party Identification measure that pools weak and leaning partisans. The results (available upon request) are qualitatively similar to those reported in column (1). This demonstrates that the pattern of results we observe in column (1) is not driven by differences between weak and leaning partisans, whose voting behavior is often quite similar.

  12. We note that this analysis rests on two assumptions. First, we assume that Big Five traits affect directional partisanship through ideology rather than affecting ideology through partisanship. Second, we assume that it is ideology that mediates the relationship between Big Five traits and partisanship rather than an omitted variable that is correlated with ideology, partisanship, and personality.

  13. We conducted additional analysis (available upon request), replacing strength of partisanship with strength of ideology as the dependent variable in the model specification presented in Table 5, column (1). In contrast to the similar relationships between Big Five traits and both ideology and directional partisanship we report in Table 4, we find that the relationships between Big Five traits and strength of ideology are quite different from the relationships between these traits and strength of partisanship. Conscientiousness is positively associated with both of these outcomes; however, the only other statistically significant relationship we find is a positive association between Emotional Stability and strength of ideology, which is in contrast to the negative, but statistically insignificant association between this trait and strength of partisanship.

  14. We note that the “independence gap” in which women are more likely to (strongly) affiliate with a party than men (see Norrander 1997; Burden 2008) persists in our models in Table 5 that include personality traits.

  15. In more formal tests (available upon request), we conducted Sobel tests to assess whether a linear measure of strength of ideology significantly mediates the relationships between Big Five traits and strength of partisanship. As the findings in Table 5 suggest, including a measure of strength of ideology significantly reduces the magnitude of the coefficient on Conscientiousness. We also find evidence that strength of ideology affects the (statistically insignificant) relationship between Emotional Stability and strength of partisanship. However, in this case the pattern of relationships suggests that excluding strength of ideology from the model suppresses the relationship between these measures (i.e., including the strength of ideology measure strengthens the negative relationship between Emotional Stability and strength of partisanship).

  16. The Tea Party movement emerged following the 2008 general election and is broadly viewed to be ideologically conservative.

  17. The CCES is also administered over the Internet by YouGov/Polimetrix. On the post-election CCES participants were asked: “What is your view of the Tea Party movement—would you say it is very positive, somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative, or very negative, or don’t you know enough about the Tea Party movement to say?” (Very Positive; Somewhat Positive; Neutral; Somewhat negative; Very Negative; Don’t know enough to say; No opinion). The analysis reported in Table 10 excludes responses of “don’t know enough to say” and “no opinion”.

  18. The analysis is further restricted by the loss of 31 cases from Washington, DC and Hawaii because no respondents from those areas changed their responses to the party identification question.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Barry Burden, Casey Klofstad, Matthew Levendusky, Paul Goren, the anonymous reviewers, and the editors for comments on earlier versions. This research was funded by Yale’s Center for the Study of American Politics and Institution for Social and Policy Studies.

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Correspondence to Gregory A. Huber.

Appendix

Appendix

Question Wording and Coding

Partisanship

Stem Generally speaking, do you think of yourself as a Democrat, a Republican, and Independent, or what?

  • If Democrat Would you call yourself a strong Democrat or a not very strong Democrat?

  • If Republican Would you call yourself a strong Republican or a not very strong Republican?

  • If Independent Do you think of yourself as closer to the Democratic or the Republican Party?

Direction

7-Point PID (−3 to 3): −3 = strong Rep.; −2 = weak Rep.; −1 = lean Rep.; 0 = Independent; 1 = lean Dem.; 2 = weak Dem.; 3 = strong Dem.

5-Point PID (−2 to 2): −2 = strong Rep.; −1 = weak/lean Rep.; 0 = Independent; 1 = weak/lean Dem.; 2 = strong Dem.

Strength

4-Point strength of party ID: 0 = “true” independents; 1 = leaning partisans; 2 = weak partisans; 3 = strong partisans

Affiliated with a major party (1 = yes) [strong or weak]: 0 = respondent said they were an Independent, other, or not sure (partisan “leaners” are coded as 0); 1 = respondent identified as a Republican or Democrat in the stem question

3-Point strength of party ID (0–2) [leaners/weak collapsed]: 0 = “true” independents; 1 = leaning/weak partisans; 2 = strong partisans

3-Point strength of party ID (0–2) [independents/leaners collapsed]: 0 = “true” independents/leaning partisans; 1 = weak partisans; 2 = strong partisans.

TIPI (10 Trait Pairs)

Here are a number of personality traits that may or may not apply to you. Please write a number next to each statement to indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with that statement. You should rate the extent to which the pair of traits applies to you, even if one characteristic applies more strongly than the other. I see myself as:

Extraversion Extraverted, enthusiastic; reserved, quiet (reverse coded)

Agreeableness Sympathetic, warm; critical, quarrelsome (reverse coded)

Conscientiousness Dependable, self-disciplined; disorganized, careless (reverse coded)

Emotional stability: Calm, emotionally stable; anxious, easily upset (reverse coded)

Openness Open to new experiences, complex; conventional, uncreative (reverse coded)

(1 = disagree strongly; 2 = disagree moderately; 3 = disagree a little; 4 = neither agree nor disagree; 5 = agree a little; 6 = agree moderately; 7 = agree strongly. Responses rescaled to range from 0 to 1).

Table 7 Correlations between Big Five measures
Table 8 The effect of personality on the direction of partisan identification (no income or education controls)
Table 9 The effect of personality on the strength of partisan identification (no income or education controls)
Table 10 The effect of personality on favorability toward the Tea Party movement
Table 11 The effect of personality on the stability of partisan identification

Ideology

Thinking about politics these days, how would you describe the political viewpoint of the following individuals… Yourself?

5-Point ideology: (−2 = very conservative; −1 = conservative; 0 = moderate/“not sure”; 1 = liberal; 2 = very liberal)

3-Point strength of ideology: 0 = moderate; 1 = liberal/conservative; 2 = very liberal/conservative

When used as covariate: (very conservative; conservative; moderate/“not sure” [omitted, reference category]; liberal; very liberal).

Policy Opinions

Abortion Under what circumstances should abortion be legal? (Abortion should be illegal. It should never be allowed; Abortion should only be legal in special circumstances, such as when the life of the mother is in danger; Abortion should be legal, but with some restrictions (such as for minors or late-term abortions) [omitted, reference category]; Abortion should always be legal. There should be no restrictions on abortion.)

Civil unions Do you favor allowing civil unions for gay and lesbian couples? These would give them many of the same rights as married couples (strongly oppose; somewhat oppose; somewhat favor [omitted, reference category]; strongly favor).

Government health care Which comes closest to your view about providing health care in the United States? (Health insurance should be voluntary. Individuals should either buy insurance or obtain it through their employers as they do currently. The elderly and the very poor should be covered by Medicare and Medicaid as they are currently; Companies should be required to provide health insurance for their employees and the government should provide subsidies for those who are not working or retired [omitted, reference category]; The Government should provide everyone with health care and pay for it with tax dollars.)

Taxing the rich Do you favor raising federal taxes on families earning more than $200,000 per year? (strongly oppose; somewhat oppose; somewhat favor [omitted, reference category]; strongly favor).

Demographics

Female 0 = male; 1 = female

White 0 = non-White; 1 = White [omitted, reference category]

Black 0 = non-Black; 1 = Black

Hispanic 0 = non-Hispanic; 1 = Hispanic

Other race (native American, Asian, mixed, other) 0 = not other race; 1 = other race

Education 1 = no high school diploma; 2 = high school graduate; 3 = some college [omitted, reference category]; 4 = two year degree; 5 = college graduate; 6 = post-graduate

Family income 1 < $10,000; 2 = $10,000–14,999; 3 = $15,000–19,999; 4 = $20,000–24,999; 5 = $25,000–29,999 [omitted, reference category]; 6 = $30,000–39,999; 7 = $40,000–49,999; 8 = $50,000–59,999; 9 = $60,000–69,999; 10 = $70,000–79,999; 11 = $80,000–99,999; 12 = $100,000–119,999; 13 = $120,000–149,999; 14 = $150,000 or more; 15 = prefer not to say or missing

Age Years.

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Gerber, A.S., Huber, G.A., Doherty, D. et al. Personality and the Strength and Direction of Partisan Identification. Polit Behav 34, 653–688 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-011-9178-5

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