Conservatives generally more willing to take business risks, study finds

Conservatives are more likely than liberals to take risks in the business world, according to new research publish in Social Psychology and Personality Science.

The study by Becky L. Choma of Ryerson University and her colleagues disputes the assertion that conservatives are always more risk-averse than liberals.

“Contrary to the widely held perception that, on average, conservatives are risk-averse and liberals risk-taking, we find that in the financial domain, political conservatives show a higher propensity to take risks when perceptions of risk and expected benefits are both higher (i.e., in conflict),” the researchers explained. “In other words, when seeing that there is much to gain but also much to lose, political conservatives show a willingness to engage in risky financial activities.”

Previous studies on risk-taking and political orientation had found that liberals tended to be the ones willing to go out on a limb. Researchers had theorized that conservatives tended to be more sensitive to threats because they adopted a worldview in which the world was a dangerous and unstable “competitive jungle,” and consequentially were more averse to risk-taking than their liberal counterparts.

Treating all risk-taking the same, however, appears to be painting with too broad a brush. For their study, Choma and her colleagues used the Domain-Specific Risk-Taking Scale, which divides risk-taking into five separate domains: financial, ethical, health, social, and recreational.

In a study of 397 American adults, the researchers found that conservatives were generally more accepting of risks when it came to financial decisions, such as starting a business. Conservatives were particularly more likely to endorse financial uncertainties in high-risk, high-reward business situations like investing, but not in non-business situations like gambling.

“Therefore, consistent with definitions of political conservatism (vs. liberalism) as valuing business, conservatives’ higher risk propensity is expressed most prominently for business activities,” Choma and her colleagues said.

In line with previous research, conservatives were more risk-averse than liberals in the recreational and ethical domains. Liberals tend to be “more comfortable than political conservatives with violating social rules and are open to novel and thrill-seeking experiences,” the researchers noted.