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Political attitudes mediate the effects of personality on vote choice, study finds

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The effects of personality traits on vote choice are mediated by political attitudes, according to a study published online this July in Electoral Studies. The findings point to the importance of party identification, feelings toward the candidates, policy preferences and evaluations of performance in determining how personality influences voting.

The Big Five personality traits are five broad dimensions of personality: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability (neuroticism) and openness to experience.

Research has clearly shown that personality traits exert significant influence on individual vote choices, with agreeableness and openness to experience being the most dominant personality characteristics to influence voting behavior. For example, in the United States presidential election of 2004, citizens with higher levels of agreeableness and openness to experience were more likely to report intending to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. In contrast, higher levels of conscientiousness and emotional stability were predictive of intention to vote for the Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush.

More recently, it has been proposed that personality traits might affect individual political engagement through their effects on other mediatory factors and by interaction with individual and contextual factors. The only study to date, conducted in Germany, found that the effects of personality traits on vote choice are mediated by partisanship, ideology, post-materialism, and policy preference.

The study, by Ching-Hsing Wang of the University of Houston, examined whether the effects of the Big Five personality traits on vote choice in the 2012 United States presidential election were mediated by: party identification, feeling toward the candidates, policy preferences and executive approval. Participants were rated on a scale of how strongly their affiliation with the Democratic Party candidate President Barack Obama, or with the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was.

The results revealed no direct relationship between personality traits and vote choice. Findings showed that higher levels of extraversion, conscientiousness and emotional stability indirectly decrease the probability of voting for Obama. This happened by weakening individual Democratic identification, triggering negative feelings toward the Democratic candidate, preferring the policy of the Republican Party and possessing negative evaluations of presidential performance. By contrast, higher levels of openness to experience indirectly increase the probability of voting for Obama by having the opposite effects.

The findings highlight the important role that these factors have on mediating the relationships between personality traits and vote choice. The researchers concluded, “We should not simply assume direct connections between personality traits and vote choice and should think about multiple mechanisms through which personality traits operate to influence individual voting decisions.”


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