Saturday 12 November 2016

Losing an election


Losing an election is no fun. Hopes are dashed, and at least 4 years must pass (5 in the UK) before electors get a chance to vote the other lot out. Deferred gratification is a test of character.

It is natural for the losing side to feel incredulous when their side is defeated, particularly if opinion polls had given them false hope of victory. Since most people consort with like minded friends, they find that most of their social network  have the same political opinions. This makes the loss incredible, because their personal experience validates a firmly held view, and they are unaware that it is based on a very restricted sampling of opinion. A certain egocentric perspective is required to blot out the full range of human opinion so effectively. To resurrect a battered word, diversity of opinion is part of life, and the losing side must always recognize that.

Ever curious, I wonder if the Left are poorer losers than the Right. The null hypothesis, of course, is that a political loss hits both sides equally, and each lose equally badly, whatever their politics.

Is this true?

I have scrabbled around for some guidance on this, and came across a single paper to start the ball rolling. You find the meta-analysis on political attitudes and we are well on our way.

Brad Verhulst, Lindon J. Eaves, Peter K. HatemiCorrelation not Causation: The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies. Am J Pol Sci. 2012; 56(1): 34–51.

The authors say:

The assumption in the personality and politics literature is that a person's personality motivates them to develop certain political attitudes later in life. This assumption is founded on the simple correlation between the two constructs and the observation that personality traits are genetically influenced and develop in infancy, whereas political preferences develop later in life. Work in psychology, behavioral genetics, and recently political science, however, has demonstrated that political preferences also develop in childhood and are equally influenced by genetic factors. These findings cast doubt on the assumed causal relationship between personality and politics. Here we test the causal relationship between personality traits and political attitudes using a direction of causation structural model on a genetically informative sample. The results suggest that personality traits do not cause people to develop political attitudes; rather, the correlation between the two is a function of an innate common underlying genetic factor.


Personality and political views

There are correlations between tough-mindedness (Psychoticism on the Eysenck personality inventory), social desirability (the Lie scale) and Neuroticism and political opinions on military, social and economic attitudes.

The authors say:

Higher P scores correlate with more conservative military attitudes and more socially conservative beliefs for both females and males. For males, the relationship between P and military attitudes (r = 0.388) is larger than the relationship between P and social attitudes (r = 0.292). Alternatively, for females, social attitudes correlate more highly with P (r = 0.383) than military attitudes (r = 0.302).

People higher in Neuroticism tend to be more economically liberal. That is, neurotic people are more likely to support public policies that provide aid to the economically disadvantaged (public housing, foreign aid, immigration, etc). Moreover, Neuroticism is unrelated to social ideology (rfemale = −0.016, rmale = −0.050). This finding suggests that neurotic individuals cope with their anxiety by supporting a “social safety net” or more “liberal” economic policies rather than “liberal” social policies.

They continue: There is also a substantively interesting relationship between Social Desirability and social ideology, which is larger for females (r females = −0.335; r males = −0.255). This facet of personality is highly context dependent, and therefore we can only speculate on this relationship, though our results are consistent with other conceptually similar findings. During the same time period in nationally representative samples, in several other attitude domains, liberal responses were also seen as more socially desirable (Kinder and Sears 1981). Thus, it appears that people who are motivated to present themselves in a socially desirable light also present themselves as socially liberal. This is only the second study we are aware of to explore the relationship between any ideological dimension and social desirability, yet the findings replicate the Verhulst, Hatemi, and Martin (2010) study on an Australian population.

So, the conventional explanation is that we have a personality difference which accounts for a political and behavioural difference. Tough-minded people are conservative in military and social matters, and would be expected to give less of a damn about ruffled feelings. Neurotic worriers want governments to help the disadvantaged, favour foreign aid, public housing and immigration. A proneness to worry may conceivably drive them to feel the pain of others, and to imagine they might one day be in need of such support themselves, so it may not all be altruistic.

Finally, those prone to Social Desirability effects (also known as the Lie Scale, a measure of “faking good”, or being incredibly naïve) are socially liberal.

On the basis of this finding, the loss of an election will be felt more strongly by the Left, mostly because they are tender minded, but also because they are worriers who feel that the poor of the world need help which will now be denied them, and that all of society should desire to be like them in their liberal attitudes (or their desire to be seen as liberal and generous).

From a tough-minded, emotionally stable perspective,  the great Democrat sadness, emotional upset and dismay is just the wailing of the mentally afflicted, wallowing in neurotic catastrophization and self-proclaiming virtue. Republicans see the Democrat response as infantile, the abject collapse of spoilt children who  cannot believe how nasty life has been to them.

From a tender-minded, emotionally sensitive perspective the Republican win is  just an extension of the insensitive, heartless and individualistic lack of concern they habitually show to anyone who gets in their way. Democrats see the Republican joy as demonic parents: violent, fascistic, dangerous; behaviours typical of oppressors who believe that life favours the brutal.

And so endeth the lesson.

However, the authors want more, so they do an ACE analysis, and conclude that a latent common genetic factor drives the development of both personality traits and political attitudes. This gives them their “Correlation not Causation” title, which in fact obscures their argument. They should have titled it “Do Personality Traits and Political Ideologies have a common genetic origin?”

For Extraversion, Neuroticism, and P the common environment is not significant in any of these variables.

The only personality trait that deviates from this trend is Social Desirability, characterized by large genetic and unique environmental variance components; however, there is also a significant, though more subtle, common environmental influence.

For political attitudes, the results are notably different. For the social and economic dimensions, the best-fitting model is the full model of additive genetic, common environmental, and unique environmental influences (ACE). There are sizable additive genetic components and substantial common environmental components to the attitudes, suggesting that individual differences in these attitude constructs are a mixture of genetic, shared, and unique environmental components. In contrast, military attitudes display a pattern of transmission similar to that of personality traits (AE), suggesting that attitudes toward the military are a function of what is learned through unique environmental (nonfamilial) influences and genetic transmission, more so than any common environmental influences.

The results so far suggest that the relationship between personality traits and political attitudes is more likely a function of a common set of genes shared between the personality traits and the political attitudes.

So, as the newspaper headlines would scream: “it’s genetic”. The poor weeping Democrats cannot be blamed for their maudlin display of petulance and tearful threats of exiling themselves to Canada. Nor, indeed, can the rich chortling Republicans be blamed for their heartless offensive comments and their eagerness in sending Mexicans back to their homeland.

Democrats are designed to take offence, Republicans to give it.

Finally, I can join all the other commentators and loftily opine: The Country is Split.


  1. Wait, wait, wait! There's been a correction to the paper. Because: "The interpretation of the coding of the political attitude items in the descriptive and preliminary analyses portion of the manuscript was exactly reversed."


    1. Extraordinary. I assume this was not a naive error, but a test of pre-conceptions. With an error of that magnitude I cannot rely on anything the paper says.

  2. Cmon man, get with tbe program--- he wasn't actually relying on this paper-- his opinions were already formed and this was paper was a convenient vehicle to to present them.

    1. The paper was the first I saw on this issue, but it certainly seems to be a test of pre-conceptions. A good meta-analysis of personality/politics link, as discussed, would be a welcome contribution.

  3. I always pause when I see something like "neurotic people are more likely to support public policies that provide aid to the economically disadvantaged (public housing, foreign aid, immigration, etc)."

    Let's test this sort of thing. Let's propose to cover Hampstead Heath with tent cities for so-called Syrian Refugees (we shall, of course, apply no test to see whether they are truly Syrian or truly refugees). Let's use the space between the tents to erect some earth-loving wind turbines, and let's charge a special rich-git tax for people in the surrounding houses to pay for all this.

    Now the question is, are the neurotic neighbours of Hampstead Heath supporters of this particular exemplification of aid? Or are they, as I suspect, much more interested in wearing their hearts on their sleeves rather than making sacrifices for these worthy causes?

    Put otherwise, are these investigators looking at what they claim to look at, or are they merely looking at the claims of poseurs? Or, more precisely, what proportion of their neurotics are mere poseurs, and what proportion are people who really mean it, as evidenced by their actions? Ditto for our hard-headed friends.

  4. "The interpretation of the coding of the political attitude items in the descriptive and preliminary analyses portion of the manuscript was exactly reversed."

    They must curse their luck because that makes them look like fools. Whereas had they been climate scientists it wouldn't have mattered: upside-down correlations in that field are just fine.

    1. The paper, in the polite mode, is "useless for testing hypotheses". What a mess.

  5. In America, we are watching the usual result of the left losing an election--rioting and other stupid activity by college students and paid activists. As a Trump supporter, grateful that Trump has already defused the dangerous NATO-Russia situation, I applaud riots by these dolts....It annoys the population, so helps us in our efforts to reform..