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Sunday, September 13, 2020

Correlation not Causation: The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies

B. Verhulst, L. J. Evans, & P. K. Hatemi
Am J Pol Sci. 2012 ; 56(1): 34–51.


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.

From the Discussion section

Based on the current results, the claim that personality traits lead to political orientations should no longer be assumed, but explicitly tested for each personality and political trait prior to making any claims about their relationship. We recognize that no single analysis can provide a definitive answer to such a complex question, and our analysis did not include the Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness Five-Factor Model measures. Future studies which use different personality measures, or other methodological designs, including panel studies that examine the developmental trajectories of personality and attitudes from childhood to adulthood, would be invaluable for investigating more nuanced relationships between personality traits and political attitudes. These would also include models which capture the nonrandom selection into environments that foster the development of more liberal or conservative political attitudes (active gene-environment covariation) as well as the possibility for differential expression of personality traits and political attitudes at different stages of the developmental process that may illuminate “critical periods” for the interface of personality and attitudes.

A link to the pdf can be found on this page.