Psychologizing The Vote
Apparently, your vote depends in large part on your personality. So says Jonathan Weiler co-author (with Marc Hetherington), of Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics.
In this recent post at Salon.com, Weiler, who earned his PhD in political science from UNC, Chapel Hill and now heads their Global Studies department, says research shows that the way you vote is not only determined by your social/economic class—it’s also (and perhaps mainly) due to your personality. This in contrast to some other social scientists who say social/economic class is the root of pretty much everything.
To a large extent, it is not class or education that explains political preferences. It is personality; specifically, the degree to which white voters believe in order and hierarchy.
For example, one of the keys to unlocking how people will vote (and presumably the degree to which white voters believe in order and hierarchy), is to view their parenting personalities and styles.
Weiler says if you’re the kind of (white) parent who wants your children to question authority and be more curious, than you’re likely to vote for Obama and Biden. If you want your kids to have respect for the wisdom of elders and good manners, than you’ll probably vote for Romney and Ryan. (What if you want your kids to be a combination of the above?)
We love election-time analysis, as regular readers of *Therapy Soup know. And as far as psychologizing the vote goes, Weiler’s analysis and insights seem pretty astute. Still, when we take a closer look, we’re left with questions.
Individuals who cherish independence and curiosity tend overwhelmingly to be authority questioning, whereas those who most value respect for elders and good manners tend to place a premium on order and hierarchy.
Weiler suggests that those who question authority would vote for Obama. But why would individuals who cherish independence and who are authority-questioning vote for any incumbent President in any election? The incumbent is always the defacto authority, the most powerful person in the world, the guy at the top of hierarchy,”the man”, etc.
So how do you parse Weiler’s revelations? We guess it boils down to how you (and Weiler) define independence, authority, respect, order, and hierarchy.
Unfortunately, the above terms are Orwell-bait. They are big, general names for the kinds of concepts that can easily be loaded with whatever visions the writer wishes. Think 1984’s Ministries of Peace, Plenty, Truth, and Love.
For example, “independence” can easily be viewed as “freedom from government laws and regulations.” It can also be viewed as “freedom from ideological pressures,” “freedom from financial worry,” “freedom to choose what you spend your money on,” “freedom to do whatever feels good,” and so on.
In general, American popular culture tends to imbue the term “authority” with negativity.Sometimes people avoid using the term when they’re talking about the very-real authority they’ve agreed to submit to, whether it’s their government, their doctor, or something or somebody else.
We’ve witnessed a lot of disagreements, political and otherwise, arising between people who have competing— even polar-opposite—visions of the same fundamental concepts. Understanding what is meant by big-idea nouns is absolutely essential when trying to discuss them, though they can often be challenging to articulate.
But it’s easy to assume that others understand the definitions of these mega-concepts the way you do, when in fact, they actually believe they these words mean something entirely different.
Weiler also says that personality is so important, that racism really isn’t a problem for white voters, at least those who are working class (and presumably not a problem for those who are college-educated):
There is a strong tendency in American politics, extending back 30 years or more, to view all white working-class voters as cut from the same cloth – uniformly predisposed to social conservatism and uncomfortable with cultural change. Then Sen. Obama was himself guilty of this sort of reductionism in 2008 when he made comments about bitter working-class voters clinging to their guns and religion. This cohort is said to have been especially uneasy with a biracial president who embodies a complex and changing world. But this isn’t really a problem for white working-class voters as such. Instead, it’s a function of the same broader dynamic that has divided the parties over the past generation and has contributed to such stark political polarization. Our political chasm is defined as much as ever by fundamental personality differences among the parties’ base voters.
But what about black, Hispanic, Asian, biracial, and other “non-white” voters? Does the voter-personality meme predict the votes of people of various ethnicities and colors? Should it?
Serious thoughts for a serious election.—C.R.
* Related posts
And from PsychCentral’s news pages, this post on Culture, Politics and The Debates
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2012). Psychologizing The Vote. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 1, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/therapy-soup/2012/10/psychologizing-the-vote/