We all know the stereotypes: right-wingers are less intelligent, abrasive and militaristic but pay taxes, while left-wingers are creative, compassionate and rely on welfare. But to what extent are these generalisations true?
Lower general intelligence in childhood, g (calculated from verbal and nonverbal intelligence scores from the 1970 British Cohort Study, as well as the National Child Development Study) predicts greater racism in adulthood (β = -0.17** and -0.11*** in men, -0.25*** and -0.07*** in women), which was accounted (correlation disappeared when the correlation with conservative ideology was factored-in) for by conservative ideology (Hodson and Busseri 2012). In addition, a model the researchers made showed that homophobia was associated with poorer abstract-reasoning skills (β = -0.17***) and partially accounted for by authoritarianism (β = 0.57***) and low intergroup contact (β = 0.23***).
Participants from 73 countries on US college campuses took 3 different cognitive tests: an analogies test, a synonyms vocabulary test and provided information on their SAT scores, and factor loading analysis was done on those results. Conservatism correlates negatively with SAT: (-0.35**), vocabulary test: (-0.40**) and analogies test: (-0.23**). It also correlated with conscientiousness (0.38), agreeableness (0.16) and in-group collectivism (0.26), although one problem is that it doesn’t give the extent to which liberalism correlates with these traits. In between nationalities conservatism correlated negatively with “future orientation” (planning, delaying gratification, -0.58), education (-0.69**), average IQ 1950 – 1999 (-0.73**) and positively with conscientiousness (0.67) (Stankov 2009).
586 Brazilian individuals were given the Standard Progressive Matrices (SPM) to measure IQ and an anonymous questionnaire measuring age, gender, income, education and political orientations (left, centre-left, centre, centre-right, right). Intelligence made it more likely to have any political opinion. The IQ results were centre-right: 105, centrist: 102, centre-left: 100, left: 97, right: 95. Grouping left and right wing centrists together produced a statistically significant difference from both the left and the right. 68% of the university population were left or centre-left (Rindermann 2012).
In the 2001 UK General election, for every standard deviation increase in childhood intelligence, measured in 1970 in the British Cohort Study, adults were 49% and 47% more likely to vote for the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats, respectively (Deary 2008). The 2001 and 2004 political support surveys also gave average IQs by party, Liberal Democrats: 107.5, Conservatives: 103.4, Labour: 102.3 and the British National Party: 97. Intelligence correlated with higher likelihood of participation in elections and more anti-traditional attitudes. In what is probably an unsurprising result, Eysenck (1999) found that supporters of the Conservatives and Liberals had on average higher levels of education than supporters of Labour.
In the USA, the SAT-verbal, SAT-math and American College Test (ACT) tests were used in a study of attitudes toward conservatism, gender roles and regulation. Frey and Detterman (2004) demonstrated that the SAT can be used as a measure of general cognitive ability. Self-described conservatism was related to lower SAT-V (Δr² = -0.88**) and ACT (-0.037*), as was a conservative stance on gender roles (-0.97, 0.085). Anti-regulation attitudes were positively related to both SAT-V (0.117***) and ACT (.072***); that is, the rejection of government control and restrictions on free speech was linked to greater cognitive ability. SAT-M was not predicted by any of the three variables (Kemmelmeier 2008). The study also used a quadratic model on their data to claim that extremists are more intelligent than centrists. There was also a positive relationship between the proportion of Democratic lawmakers in each state and state average IQ (β = 0.380*). At voting participation rate levels below 1 SD of the mean, greater proportions of Democratic lawmakers were linked to lower state-IQs, (β = 0.475***). In other words, in states with low voter turnout, in-state support for the more Liberal Democrats was related to lower state-IQ.
Using a 10-word vocabulary test that has a correlation of 0.71 with the Army General Classification Test as a measure of verbal intelligence, Noah Carl analysed data from the General Social Survey to obtain results on party affiliation and opinion. He shows that verbal intelligence is correlated with both socially and economically liberal beliefs (β = .10–.32) (Carl 2014). Social conservatism and economic statism had β coefficients of -0.26 and -0.21, respectively, with verbal intelligence.
So, conservatism itself has a reproducible negative correlation with IQ, cognitive ability, education level and various test scores, and these correlations were mid-range in their strength. Conservative traits of homophobia, racism, belief in traditional gender roles, an anti-abortion stance, an anti-drugs legalisation stance and belief in higher military spending had, somewhat smaller (<0.35), negative correlations with cognitive ability, some of which were accounted for by a correlation with authoritarianism and low intergroup contact.
However, in both the UK and Brazil, supporters of the centre and centre-right parties had the highest average IQs, followed by the centre-left and left, while the right had the lowest. This may be because of the negative correlation between leftist economic policies such as support for unions/price controls/government control of industry and verbal intelligence, since the far left and right often share these views.
Low intergroup contact and in-group collectivism had similar negative β coefficients (~0.25) with intelligence, and this characterises nationalism. While nationalism is more often associated with conservatism, the left also has strong loyalties to particular groups of people. Hans Eysenck for example, thinks that higher intelligence pushes people to the centre of politics, rather than simply to the left. Hodson and Busseri also noted that leftist worldviews can also simplify the world (immigrants as angels, patriots as ogres or caitiffs), despite their study examining the effect of authoritarianism on racism and homophobia.
It’s worth noting that Lynn and Nyborg in 2007 reported that IQ and belief in God had an r of -0.60.
To quote Meisenberg, 2004 in summary: “‘intelligence’ [causes] a rational, non-traditional system of beliefs and values. As people get brighter they develop a habit of critical thinking, questioning religious dogmas and other sources of traditional authority… The cognitive attitudes of conservatism often reflect difficulties or disinclincation to make fine-grained analysis of a problematic situation”.
But does conservatism cause lower intelligence? I doubt it, since intelligence is 75% genetic. Do these associations mean that if someone espouses conservative ideology, they’re dumber than you (as a liberal or libertarian)? No, because these correlations are not very large, with most being below 0.50, and the variation in cognitive ability between opinion groups will be large enough so that cognitive abilities overlap. These correlations only appear when you look at hundreds of individuals, they only prove that there’s more of an accumulation of low-intelligence people at the conservative positions than at the liberal ones. Why is that, you ask? Probably because many of them lack complexity. But plenty of intelligent conservatives espouse those opinions, and let’s not forget that sometimes the simple answer is the correct one, and that overthinking and over-complicating things does exist. Intelligence isn’t everything in politics, and that’s because personality, group allegiances, and life experiences are bigger causal factors of political ideology.
Iyer et al 2012 report that in terms of agreeableness, liberals were highest, conservatives only slightly lower and libertarians the least. The same difference existed between conservatives and libertarians on conscientiousness, with liberals in between. This agrees with Stankov 2009: a correlation between conscientiousness and conservatism on the individual (0.38) and the national (0.67) levels. Liberals were the most extrovert, with conservatives in between and libertarians the least, but little range between all three. Liberals were also the most neurotic, with conservatives and libertarians being almost the same, while liberals also had the most openness, with libertarians at a close second. See bottom of this page for personality definitions.
So liberals had the highest of all of the 5 NEO PI-R big personality traits except conscientiousness, of which they had slightly more of than libertarians. Women compared to men also followed the exact same pattern as liberals compared to conservatives, confirming that liberalism is more feminine than conservatism.
In Iyer’s study, liberals also had the greatest empathetic concern, with libertarians the least and conservatives in between, and these differences were quite large. Liberals also ranked highest on “fantasy”, with conservatives the least but similar to libertarians. Of interest, conservatives had highest disgust, while libertarians had the least and liberals close to least. Libertarians had the highest need for cognition and conservatives the least. There are numerous other measurements, such as “purity, hedonism, power, authority, security, fairness”.
A meta-analysis from 12 countries (Jost 2003) concludes that political conservatism is significantly associated with multiple measures of death anxiety (r = 0.50), closed mindedness, dogmatism, intolerance of ambiguity, low openness to experience (-0.32, measured as sensation seeking), uncertainty avoidance, need for order and closure, threat arising from social and economic deprivation, pessimism, disgust, contempt, anger and aggression and fear of threat and loss of self-esteem. “The threat or uncertainty may derive from fear of death, anarchy, foreigners, dissent, complexity, novelty, ambiguity, and social change. Responses to these sources of uncertainty include superstition, religious dogmatism, ethnocentrism, militarism, authoritarianism, punitiveness, conventionality, and rigid morality”.
A study on the interactions between who people voted for in the U.S. elections 1996-2004 and the Big Five personality traits confirms the pattern of Republican voters having higher conscientiousness (r >0.50**, Democrats ~ -0.40**) and having lower levels of the other personality traits (Jost 2006). Democrats had higher openness (r ~ 0.60**, Republicans ~ -0.60**) and extraversion (r ~ >0.25*, Republicans ~ 0.25*) and the differences in neuroticism and agreeableness were insignificant but both higher in Democrat voters.
Carney 2008 reported that openness was associated with liberalism (r ~>0.20***) and agreeableness was associated with conservatism (r ~ >0.05*), while conscientiousness was also associated with conservatism (r ~ 0.10***) and this was composed of “achievement striving” (r = 0.24) and “desire for order” (r =0.21). Additionally, openness to experience has a low- to mid-level correlation with intelligence, while conscientiousness and neuroticism show low, negative but significant correlations with intelligence and agreeableness and extraversion show no or unreliable correlations (Furnham 2005a, Furnham 2005b).
A study exploring happiness and political stance notes “A 2006 public-opinion survey found that Republicans in the United States have been more likely than Democrats to report being “very happy” every year since 1972… trait conscientiousness and extraversion are positively related, and neuroticism negatively, to life-satisfaction”. It shows yet again conscientiousness (0.17**), neuroticism (-0.11**) and openness (-0.27**) to be related to conservatism, while agreeableness and extraversion had low positive but insignificant associations with conservatism (Peterson 2015). Conservatives were also more likely to be male (-0.11**), older (0.18**), more religious (0.43**), wealthy (0.16**), satisfaction with life (0.08*) and to believe the system is justified (0.29**). It was found that the greater happiness of conservatives disappeared when their lower neuroticism, greater conscuentiousness, log income or system justification beliefs were factored in.
Thus far, there has been an inconsistent relationship between agreeableness and conservatism. Jordan Peterson showed in a study in 2009 (Peterson 2009) that Republican voting was associated with lower agreeableness (β = -0.17). However, “preference for the Republican Party was predicted negatively by compassion (β = –0.32**), and positively by politeness (β = 0.18*)” which are the two aspects of agreeableness. Conversely, compassion predicted liberalism (β = 0.27**), politeness negatively (β = –0.30**). Tenderness demonstrated a positive correlation with liberalism (r = 0.19**) and reduced preference for the Republican Party (r = –0.29**). Of further interest, orderliness, a component of conscientiousness, was associated with conservatism (β = 0.26**), but not its other component, industriousness. Likewise, orderliness was negatively associated with liberalism (β = -0.48**) and industriousness was unrelated. Further information:
An LSE blog also gives personality profiles of voters in the 2015 UK General Election:
So, which personality factor or combination of factors is the biggest determinant of political identity? The pattern certainly appears to be predominantly openness and conscientiousness, followed by neuroticism, with right-wingers being low in openness and high in conscientiousness and slightly lower in neuroticism, and left-wingers being the opposite. These associations rarely went above 0.60, but if we combine these 3 correlations together, then I believe a lot of political self-identification will be accounted for. Many individuals on the left are more conscientious than the average person, or not very open to new experiences, or below average intelligence: but all 3 together? I think there will be very few left-wing people of that description, and vice versa.
More speculatively, above is a discussion between Gad Saad and Jordan B Peterson. They discuss, at 34:40 the possibility that radical-left, or “social justice warrior” movements are characterised by a politicised, “collective” Munchausen syndrome (when people feign disability to attain sympathy from others). Peterson then helps to confirm this by explaining that people downplay their own persecution while exaggerating the persecution of their group, which, while describing only “people” generally and not specifically people on the far left, certainly aligns with the focus of the modern feminist, anti-colonialist, anti-racist and intersectionalism-obsessed political groups. If Munchausen syndrome (either personal or by proxy) falls under the diagnosis of “neuroticism”, then according to the evidence above, far-left groups, being highest in neuroticism, would be the most represented demographic in having it.
It’s often noted that far-right nationalists place their national identity first and proclaim their own national or racial group is superior in order to compensate for their own personal flaws: they’re often low in intelligence or have criminal records or lack employment. An amusing parallel would be if far-left groups can be diagnosed with Munchausen syndrome, making them crave sympathy from others, and because they are higher in compassion and empathy as shown above, then self-ascribing as far-left would be akin to saying “I’m a more compassionate person because I’m in the most compassionate group”. At 41:00 Peterson gets to explaining that more extremely agreeable (compassionate) individuals strongly advocate language control and had higher orderliness, (a trait conservatives were also high in), and that this was associated with low verbal cognitive ability (and far-left individuals have lower IQ and verbal intelligence than average, as we saw above). Language control correlated more strongly with lower verbal cognitive ability than academic grades did, and it also correlated with neuroticism (“clinical symptomology”). He then explains that this concludes that the personality predictors of political correctness are not the same as those of liberalism. In other words, politically correct individuals (those desirous of language control) as compared to liberals are: high orderliness, low IQ, high agreeableness and highly neurotic.
It would also be interesting to find associations between political loyalty and impulsiveness and tendencies to spend or save money.
Researchers found that in a simulated election with two choices, that compared to left-wing people, right-wing people will choose the candidate they see on the right of the ballot paper about 15% more often.
A study by Cantor 2005 showed that “The odds of non-right-handedness in men offending predominantly against prepubescent children were approximately two-fold higher than that in men offending predominantly against adults and three-fold higher after eliminating those men with intrafamilial (i.e., incest) offenses.”. In another study, pedophilia showed significant negative correlations with IQ and memory recall and was associated with non-right-handedness.
Pedophilia also appears to be inherited: “pedophilia is found more frequently in families of pedophiles than in families of nonpedophilic paraphiliacs.” and anecdotally associated with violence: “Poor control over impulsive behavior with aggressive outbursts and physical violence was present in individuals (of this family)”.
There may, therefore, be an association between pedophilia and left-wing belief.
In conclusion, I think that a large amount of variation in political belief is explained by intelligence and personality. These factors will restrict the life-time journey of a person’s political description to a range of beliefs that will lie on similar positions on the axes of personality and intelligence, allowing the rest of variations across a person’s lifetime and between people to be determined by life experiences.
For those who are interested, here are my results of the Eysenck test. I identify as an economic centrist with belief in classical liberal values such as those of the American Constitution.
Eysenck’s Test Results
|Extraversion (37%) moderately low which suggests you are reclusive, quiet, unassertive, and private.
Neuroticism (45%) medium which suggests you are moderately worrying, insecure, emotional, and anxious.
Psychoticism (26%) low which suggests you are overly kind natured, trusting, and helpful at the expense too often of your own individual development (martyr complex).
“The big five personality characteristics are broad and stable universal predispositions including extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness to experience and neuroticism”.
“An agreeable person is fundamentally altruistic, sympathetic to others and eager to help them, and in return believes that others will be equally helpful. The disagreeable/antagonistic person is egocentric, sceptical of others’ intentions, and competitive rather than co-operative.”
“Conscientiousness refers to self-control and the active process of planning, organising and carrying out tasks (Barrick & Mount, 1993). The conscientious person is purposeful, strong-willed and determined.”
“Extraversion includes traits such as sociability, assertiveness, activity and talkativeness.”
“Neuroticism is a dimension of normal personality indicating the general tendency to experience negative affects such as fear, sadness, embarrassment, anger, guilt and disgust. High scorers may be at risk of some kinds of psychiatric problems. A high Neuroticism score indicates that a person is prone to having irrational ideas, being less able to control impulses, and coping poorly with stress. A low Neuroticism score is indicative of calmness and emotional stability.”
“Openness to Experience includes active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, a preference for variety, intellectual curiosity and independence of judgement. People scoring low on Openness tend to prefer familiarity.”
“At the aspect level, the five domains are broken down into Assertiveness and Enthusiasm (Extraversion), Compassion and Politeness (Agreeableness), Industriousness and Orderliness (Conscientiousness), Volatility and Withdrawal (Neuroticism), and Openness and Intellect (Openness-Intellect).”