Bryan Caplan  

Personality and Politics: New Evidence from Germany

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I'm convinced that economists have a lot to learn from personality psychology. For example, personality is a great predictor of occupational choice. Librarians are highly introverted, and salesmen are highly extraverted, just as you'd expect. Preferences matter, Becker and Stigler notwithstanding.

It's not too surprising, then, that I once strongly suspected that personality differences would be an important predictor of political differences. At least in the literature I've searched (a lot) and the data sets I've looked at (two), however, there is very little evidence of a connection.

But today some evidence landed on my desk that cuts the other way. A recent German study reports some intuitively plausible links between personality and political orientation. Here is how author Siegfried Schumann responds to the question "What kind of personality traits are most relevant?":

There's two: A readiness to experience new things -- having various interests, being imaginative, profound and visionary -- and conscientiousness concerning planning, organizing and conducting tasks. Two parties are at the opposite end of the spectrum: Supporters of the Greens are by and large open for new things and not very conscientious. On the other side are those voting for the Christian Democrats: They are very conscientious and lack openness to new experiences.

If you are more familiar with the semi-popular Myers-Briggs (or "Jungian") model rather than the more academic Five Factor Model, Schumann's results basically say that:

1. Greens are more N ("intuitive"), Christian Democrats are more S ("sensing")

2. Greens are more P ("perceiving"), CDs are more J ("judging")

All this leaves me wondering: Is German politics more about personality type than U.S. politics? Or are the effects just small enough that they're easy to miss?

Thanks to Tyler Cowen for the pointer.

COMMENTS (13 to date)
mjrmjr writes:

I'm very much an N(INTP) and I'd put myself on the left politically.

It seems like, anecdotally, the majority of folks I encounter or read in print on the right are STJs.

As a general rule, leftists are more open to new ideas but only if those new ideas are on left. They are also far more likely to self-assess themselves as open to new ideas.

I haven't seen much objective evidence that leftists are more open to new ideas in general than are conservatives.

Paul N writes:

I'm INTP and libertarian/conservative. (I know the plural of anecdote is not data, but I want to write about myself because I'm extremely egotistical and self-important, which you could also tell by the fact that I post comments to a weblog.)

nelziq writes:

I am also an INTP and I easliy notice those of a compatible personality type. The Myers-Briggs system identifies INTP as "Architects". I have observed that, Consitant with its naming, INTPers often have abstract and comprehensive ideas as to what an ideal society ought to look like, and are often radical leftists or libertarians. Its also of note that INTPs are the smallest segment of the population so this doesnt bode well for either political movement. Many NPs are nerds, and as a survey of any political discussion will reveal that most nerds fall in either the leftist of libertarian category.

nelziq writes:

On another note, this seems consistant with an expressive voter theorem. Especially in a self-centered consumer culture where product choice helps to define the self, average political consumers will demand a political party that reflects on them as individuals and jives well with their personality and lifestyle.

Bruce Cleaver writes:

Like Paul N and mjrmjr, I am INTP. I am an engineer by training and perhaps personality (fulfilling another of Bryan's observations!), but most of the engineers with whom I have discussed the MB test are also INTP - and they lean heavily rightward.

mjrmjr writes:

I can understand on a certain level how the idealistic tendancies of an INTP would lead them towards libtertarianism. Of course that same idealism leads other to the far left. Are there many INTPs who would classify themselves as political moderates, I wonder?

In terms of political philosophy I find myself most aligned with the writings of John Stuart Mill(himself incidentally an INTP). His utilitarianism seems to me the best reconciliation of idealistic principles with how it should/has to work in practice, in a much less than perfect world.

Much of libertarian thought appels to me but in the end I reject it for the same reason I(again, as a leftist) reject Marxism. Awesome in theory, but in practice I don't think it will ever work.

AJ writes:

THis study and others have the wrong categories -- ones made up by academics. For example, the study about Greens and CDs clearly points to the fact that the Greens engage in wishful thinking while the CDs are concerned with consequences and responsibility for actions. Another area neglected by such studies are committments. Academics, students, and Greens have many fewer committments (or less responsibility toward them) particularly in the area of ownership of economic interests. I think orientation to these traits are more important politically, but academics and students are like fish swiming in the ocean -- they have a hard time seeing that there is something besides "wet." Therefore, the categories that get used in such studies are missing the important distinctions.

eddie writes:

Like most INTPs, I find the science of personality trait analysis rather dubious. Also, like most Gemini, I don't believe in astrology.

Aaron Chalfin writes:

Some Politics May be Eatched in Genes:

Robert Schwartz writes:

Personality Psychology=Marketing B$=Intellectual Junk Food.

The more interesting analysis is by Michael Barone, who reveals that the underlying faultlines of German Politics reach back to the 30 years war.

Tom writes:

I just happen to have three related posts:

IQ and Personality

IQ and Politics

The Right Is Smarter Than the Left

Taken together, they address the relations between intelligence, personality, and politics. The bottom line: the INTJs and INTPs are generally brighter and more "conservative" (where libertarianism counts as conservativism).

mgl writes:

One more data point: I'm an INTP (engineer) who migrated from Chomskyite Leftist in my 20s to Classical Liberal today (I'm now 38). If I was to hazard a guess, I'd say that leftism appeals to young INTPs because that's the side most professional intellectuals are on, and INTPs tend to respect intellect above all else. But if you spend enough time around institutes of higher education, you notice that a) Intellectuals are just as closed-minded and tribalist as anyone else, and much more prone to giddy worship of tyrants, (*cough*Stalin*cough*) and b) Many of their beliefs and superstitions bear very little resemblance to reality. Add to that with the startling illiberalism of leftists on campuses today and the fact that much of leftist thinking is simply the result of confusing "ought" with "is", and there's not much intellectual meat for an INTP to subsist on. In the end, I settled upon classical liberalism as the philosophical framework most likely to sustain the incredible progress we've made over the past few centuries while allowing as much freedom as possible for human beings to choose their own ends.

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