American politics has become more polarized. The source of the phenomena is debated. We posit that human mate choice may play a role in the process. Spouses are highly correlated in their political preferences, and research in behavioral genetics, neuroscience, and endocrinology shows that political preferences develop through a complex interaction of social upbringing, life experience, immediate circumstance, and genes and hormones, operating through one’s psychological architecture by Hatemi et al. (J Theor Politics, 24:305–327, 2012). Consequently, if people with similar political values produce children, there will be more individuals at the ideological extremes over generations. This said, we are left with a mystery: spousal concordance on political attitudes does not result from convergence over the course of the relationship, nor are spouses initially selecting one another on political preferences. We examine whether positive mate assortation—like seeks like—on non-political factors such as lifestyle and demographics could lead to inadvertent assortation on political preferences. Using a sample of Internet dating profiles we find that both liberals and conservatives seek to date individuals who are like themselves. This result suggests a pathway by which long-term couples come to share political preferences, which in turn could be fueling the widening ideological gap in the United States.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Assortative mating is pervasive in a variety of species, including humans (Mare 1991; Vandenberg 1972). In humans, it is extremely rare to find negative assortment on any social trait of interest. Rather, humans assort positively on a number of traits, including religiosity (Botwin et al. 1997), intelligence (Kanazawa 2010) and political ideology (Alford et al. 2011; Eaves et al. 1999).
For example, literature consistent with an evolutionary theory on parental investment suggests that men privilege physical attractiveness in women, while women often seek wealth and status from men (Todd et al. 2007).
Although the site itself is public, with no inherent expectation of privacy, in our human subjects protocol we agreed to keep the exact source confidential to preserve the privacy of those individuals posting profiles.
For other examples see Pawlowski and Dunbar (1999) on how older women have an incentive not to list their age in dating profiles to appear younger, and Hall et al. (2010) on how men are more likely to misrepresent personal assets, while women are more likely to misrepresent weight. We thank an anonymous reviewer for clarifying this feature of our data set.
The program, instructions and examples are available at http://www.matthewckeller.com/html/pedevolve.html. The simulation procedure and code are available from the authors.
Also see Agrawal et al. (2006) for evidence of assortation on psychoactive substances.
Additional studies on this sample and an Australian population report similar results (see Martin et al. 1986).
At other points in time, other issues aside from race might have, or will, separate the dating preferences of liberals and conservatives.
However, it is unlikely anyone of the three of us will be around to be proven right or wrong.
Agrawal, A., Heath, A. C., Grant, J. D., Pergadia, M. L., Statham, D. J., Bucholz, K. K., et al. (2006). Assortative mating for cigarette smoking and for alcohol consumption in female Australian twins and their spouses. Behavioral Genetics, 36, 553–566.
Alford, J. R., Funk, C. L., & Hibbing, J. R. (2005). Are political orientations genetically transmitted? American Political Science Review, 99, 153–167.
Alford, J. R., Hatemi, P. K., Hibbing, J. R., Martin, N. G., & Eaves, L. J. (2011). The politics of mate choice. The Journal of Politics, 73, 1–19.
Bereczkei, T., Voros, S., Gal, A., & Bernath, L. (1997). Resources, attractiveness, family commitment: Reproductive decisions in human mate choice. Ethology, 103, 681–699.
Bobo, L., & Licari, F. C. (1989). Education and political tolerance: Testing the effects of cognitive sophistication and target group affect. Public Opinion Quarterly, 53, 285–308.
Botwin, M. D., Buss, D. M., & Shackelford, T. K. (1997). Personality and mate preferences: Five factors in mate selection and marital satisfaction. Journal of Personality, 65, 107–136.
Bryan, A. D., Webster, G. D., & Mahaffey, A. L. (2011). The big, the rich, and the powerful: Physical, financial, and social dimensions of dominance in mating and attraction. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 365–382.
Byrne, D. (1961). Interpersonal attraction and attitude similarity. Journal of Abnormal Social Psychology, 62, 713–715.
Campbell, A., Converse, P. E., Miller, W. E., & Stokes, D. E. (1960). The American voter. New York, NY: Wiley.
Cavior, N., Miller, K., & Cohen, S. H. (1975). Physical attractiveness, attitude similarity, and length of acquaintance as contributors to interpersonal attraction among adolescents. Social Behavior and Personality, 3, 133–142.
Chadwick Martin Bailey (2010). Recent trends: Online dating. Retrieved from http://cp.match.com/cppp/media/CMB_Study.pdf.
Coffé, H., & Need, A. (2010). Similarity in husbands and wives party family preference in the Netherlands. Electoral Studies, 29, 259–268.
Cowden, J. (2001). Southernization of the nation and nationalization of the South: Racial conservatism, social welfare and white partisans in the United States, 1956–92. British Journal of Political Science, 31, 277–301.
Curry, T. J., & Kenny, D. A. (1974). The effects of perceived and actual similarity in values and personality in the process of interpersonal attraction. Quality & Quantity, 8, 27–44.
Eaves, U., & Eysenck, H. J. (1974). Genetics and the development of social attitudes. Nature, 249, 288–289.
Eaves, L. J., Eysenck, H. J., & Martin, N. G. (1989). Genes, culture and personality: An empirical approach. London: Academic Press.
Eaves, L. J., & Hatemi, P. K. (2008). Transmission of attitudes toward abortion and gay rights: Parental socialization or parental mate selection? Behavior Genetics, 38, 247–256.
Eaves, L. J., Heath, A. C., Martin, N. G., Maes, H. H., Neale, M. C., Kendler, K. S., et al. (1999). Comparing the biological and cultural inheritance of personality and social attitudes in the Virginia 30,000 study of twins and their relatives. Twin Research, 2, 62–80.
Feliciano, C., Robnetta, B., & Komaiea, G. (2009). Gendered racial exclusion among white Internet daters. Social Science Research, 38, 39–54.
Fiorina, M. P., & Abrams, S. J. (2008). Political polarization in the American public. Annual Review of Political Science, 11, 563–588.
Fiorina, M. P., Abrams, S. J., & Pope, J. C. (2005). Culture war? The myth of a polarized America. London: Longman.
Fowler, J. H., Baker, L. A., & Dawes, C. T. (2008). Genetic variation in political participation. American Political Science Review, 102, 233–248.
Gerson, M. 2010. Liberals resort to conspiracy theories to explain Obama’s problems. The Washington Post.
Greenlees, I. A., & McGrew, W. C. (1994). Sex and age differences in preferences and tactics of mate attraction: Analysis of published advertisements. Ethology and Sociobiology, 15, 59–72.
Hall, J. A., Park, N., Song, H., & Cody, M. J. (2010). Strategic misrepresentation in online dating: The effects of gender, self-monitoring, and personality traits. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27, 117–135.
Hatemi, P. K., Byrne, E., & McDermott, R. (2012). What is a “gene” and why does it matter for political science? Journal of Theoretical Politics, 24, 305–327.
Hatemi, P. K., Hibbing, J. R., Medland, S. E., Keller, M. C., Alford, J. R., Smith, K. B., et al. (2010). Not by twins alone: Using the extended family design to investigate genetic influence on political beliefs. American Journal of Political Science, 54, 798–814.
Heath, A. C., Kendler, K. S., Eaves, L. J., & Markell, D. (1985). The resolution of cultural and biological inheritance: Informativeness of different relationships. Behavioral Genetics, 15, 439–465.
Hitsch, G. J., Hortaçsu, A., & Ariely, D. (2010). Matching and sorting in online dating. American Economics Review, 100, 130–163.
Huckfeldt, R. (1983). Social contexts, social networks, and urban neighborhoods: Environmental constraints on friendship choice. American Journal of Sociology, 89, 651–669.
Imai, K., King, G., & Lau, O. (2007a). Zelig: Everyone’s statistical software. Retrieved from http://gking.harvard.edu.
Imai, K., King, G., & Lau, O. (2007b). ls: least squares regression for continuous dependent variables. In K. Imai, G. King, & O. Lau (Eds.), Zelig: Everyone’s statistical software. Retrieved from http://gking.harvard.edu.
Imai, K., King, G., & Lau, O. (2008). Toward a common framework for statistical analysis and development. Journal of Computational and Graphical Statistics, 17, 1–22.
Jennings, M. K., & Niemi, R. (1968). The transmission of political values from parent to child. The American Political Science Review, 62, 169–184.
Jennings, M. K., & Stoker, L. (2000). Political similarity and influence between husbands and wives. Prepared for the 2000 American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, Washington, DC.
Jones, M. (2012). Obama ratings historically polarized. Retrieved from www.gallup.com.
Jost, T., Banaji, M. R., & Nosek, B. A. (2004). A decade of system justification theory: Accumulated evidence of conscious and unconscious bolstering of the status quo. Political Psychology, 25, 881–919.
Kanazawa, S. (2010). Why liberals and atheists are more intelligent. Social Psychology Quarterly, 73, 33–57.
Klofstad, C. A., McDermott, R., & Hatemi, P. K. (2011). Do bedroom eyes wear political glasses?: The role of politics in human mate attraction. Evolution and Human Behavior. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2011.06.002.
Kofoed, E. (2008). The role of political affiliations and attraction in romantic relationships: Why can’t we all just get along? Advances in Communication Theory & Research, 2. Retrieved from http://www.k-state.edu/actr/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/4kofoed-politics-and-attraction.pdf.
Layman, G. C., Carsey, T. M., & Horowitz, J. M. (2006). Party polarization in American politics: Characteristics, causes, and consequences. Annual Review of Political Science, 9, 83–110.
Li, N. P., Bailey, J. M., Kenrick, D. T., & Linsenmeier, J. A. W. (2002). The necessities and luxuries of mate preferences: Testing the tradeoffs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 947–955.
Madden, M. & Lenhart, A. (2006). On line dating. Retrieved from www.pewinternet.org.
Mare, R. D. (1991). Five decades of educational assortative mating. American Sociological Review, 56, 15–32.
Martin, N. G., Eaves, L. J., Heath, A. C., Jardine, R., Feingold, L. M., & Eysenck, H. J. (1986). Transmission of social attitudes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 83, 4364–4368.
McGraw, K. J. (2002). Environmental predictors of geographic variation in human mating practices. Ethology, 108, 303–317.
Milbank, D. 2012. Rick Santorum cries Nazi. The Washington Post.
Pawlowski, B., & Dunbar, R. I. M. (1999). Withholding age as putative deception in mate search tactics. Evolution and Human Behavior, 20, 53–69.
Sailer, S. (2004). Baby gap: How birthrates color the electoral map. The American Conservative. Retrieved from http://amconmag.com.
Stelter, B. 2012. After apology, national advertisers are still shunning Limbaugh. The New York Times.
Stoker, L., & Jennings, M. K. (1989). Life-cycle transitions and political participation: the case of marriage. American Political Science Review, 89, 421–433.
Stoker, L., & Jennings, K. M. (2006). Political similarity and influence between husbands and wives. In A. S. Zuckerman (Ed.), The social logic of politics. Philadelphia: Temple.
Todd, P., Penke, L., Fasolo, B., & Lenton, A. P. (2007). Different cognitive processes underlie human mate choices and mate preferences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 104(38), 15011–15016.
Vandenberg, S. G. (1972). Assortative mating, or who marries whom? Behavior Genetics, 2, 127–157.
Waynforth, D., & Dunbar, R. I. M. (1995). Conditional mate choice strategies in humans: Evidence from “lonely hearts” advertisements. Behaviour, 132, 755–779.
Wiederman, M. W. (1993). Evolved gender differences in mate preferences: Evidence from personal advertisements. Ethology and Sociobiology, 14, 331–352.
Zietsch, B. P., Verweij, K. J., Heath, A. C., & Martin, N. G. (2011). Variation in human mate choice: simultaneously investigating heritability, parental influence, sexual imprinting, and assortative mating. The American Naturalist, 177, 605–616.
Zuckerman, A. S., Fitzgerald, J., & Dasovic, J. (2005). Do couples support the same political parties? In A. S. Zuckerman (Ed.), The social logic of politics. Philadelphia, PA: Temple.
The authors wish to thank the members of the Nowicki Lab at Duke University for support and feedback. The University of Miami provided resources to CAK for data collection.
About this article
Cite this article
Klofstad, C.A., McDermott, R. & Hatemi, P.K. The Dating Preferences of Liberals and Conservatives. Polit Behav 35, 519–538 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-012-9207-z
- Human mate choice
- Mate assortation