Election Day is creeping closer and closer. Every election year, we feel tensions rise. Once again, it’s Democrats against Republicans and we can’t seem to find common ground with each other, even with people we love and care about. Why is that?
There has been an increasing amount of research done on political behaviors around the world to help explain why someone might vote for one political party instead of another. Political psychologists and social psychologists alike continue to work to shed light on how we tend to view other human beings and how we perceive what our American society is like and how it functions. Both of these factors have an effect on who we tend to vote for in elections.
To begin with, we make judgements about the personalities of others based on our own personalities. According to German Political Psychologists Harald Schoen and Siegfried Schumann,
“When assessing other persons in everyday life, human beings compare their own personality to the personality traits they ascribe to others.” (Schoen; Schumann, 3)
There are five main personality traits that are used in Schoen and Siegfried’s study and based on how high you score in each category, there is an indicator for which political party you might lean towards. For example, higher scores in neuroticism, or emotional stability, indicate a preference for political parties on the conservative side while high scores in openness proved to point to liberal priorities.
Political leanings based on personality traits are not enough to predict which political party a person might vote for in an election. We also need to take into account what is going on in our environment that voters might care about. In this current election, the big issues that are on the table are National Security, immigration, equity, and healthcare, among other issues.
According to Social Psychologist S.J. McCann in his 2009 study, “Higher societal threat was associated with a general tendency for voters to endorse Republican candidates in the congressional elections from 1946-1992; conservative state electorates, but not liberal state electorates, tended to vote for Republican candidates to a higher degree when threats to the American established order and way of life were more pronounced.” (McCann, 350)
To put it plainly, the greater the perceived threat, the more many of us choose to vote for the more conservative candidate. Conservative candidates tend to show more traits that we attribute to leadership while liberal candidates tend to show caring traits, which aren’t always paired with leadership.
There has always been things and other people to scare us, election season or not. Some of us are worried about terrorism, some of us are worried about immigration, some of us are worried about our safety. If it happens that we feel threatened or that our American way of life feels threatened and we happen to have the personality type that requires a lot of emotional stability (high neuroticism), we want more security from that threat and will look to the person who can get us that security. For those who feel threatened by immigrants entering the country, Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall between the United States and Mexico might sound like an attractive plan to keep the perception of what American society is alive and raise emotional security. For those who tend to vote for a more liberal candidate, personality traits like high levels of openness paired with a posed threat to American society like Donald Trump might motivate us to vote for a more liberal candidate such as the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
A combination of our personalities and the things that are stressing us out around us causing fear and uncertainty are contributing to our decision about who to elect as our nation’s next leader. This research isn’t meant to point out the weaknesses in each other or turn liberal-leaning individuals against more conservative-leaning individuals. Rather, it’s meant to bring about understanding between us and why we might vote for one candidate and not the other.