The Dating Preferences of Liberals and Conservatives

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Among the traits along which humans assort, political orientation is among the highest, correlating at about r = 0.67–0.70 between spouses (Eaves et al. 1999; Martin et al. 1986). Only religion and church attendance are more concordant.

  2. 2.

    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).

  3. 3.

    For evidence of how differences in political preferences can negatively influence one’s perception of potential dating partners see Byrne (1961), Cavior et al. (1975), Curry and Kenny (1974), and Kofoed (2008).

  4. 4.

    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).

  5. 5.

    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.

  6. 6.

    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.

  7. 7.

    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.

  8. 8.

    Also see Agrawal et al. (2006) for evidence of assortation on psychoactive substances.

  9. 9.

    Additional studies on this sample and an Australian population report similar results (see Martin et al. 1986).

  10. 10.

    At other points in time, other issues aside from race might have, or will, separate the dating preferences of liberals and conservatives.

  11. 11.

    However, it is unlikely anyone of the three of us will be around to be proven right or wrong.

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Acknowledgments

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.

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Correspondence to Casey A. Klofstad.

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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

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Keywords

  • Ideology
  • Polarization
  • Human mate choice
  • Mate assortation