What Democrats and Republicans don’t have in common goes far beyond the ballot box. Their personalities, like their core beliefs and policy ideas, are fundamentally different.
Liberals are creative and curious, and tend to be more open to new experiences, while conservatives are more anxious, dislike change, and appreciate order in their lives. Scientists don’t know if political interests shape temperament, or vice versa, but new research suggests lawmakers’ personality traits play an important role in political causes—like forcing a government shutdown—and may even determine if those causes survive.
In a study published this week in the journal Psychological Science, researchers asked 300 people in an online survey whether they agreed or disagreed with both political (“In general, I support labor unions”) and nonpolitical statements (“I enjoy coffee”). They also asked participants to indicate how much others who shared their political views would support their attitudes.
The results showed that liberals underestimated their levels of partisan support; that is, they thought their beliefs were different from their liberal peers, when they actually were not. Conservatives and moderates, on the other hand, thought their beliefs were more similar to those of other members of their political group than they actually were, overstating partisan agreement. These patterns of thinking held for topics unrelated to politics, like personal preference for coffee.
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