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    Do States Have Personalities? Political Scientists Say They Do
    By News Staff | March 31st 2014 06:10 PM | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    Do you live where your job is or do you move to be near people who match your personality as far as being agreeable or conscientious? 

    California has three Democratic state senators under indictment, all being paid while due process makes its way. That seems very conscientious, though there is no chance that would be the case if the politicians facing jail time were Republicans. According to a new paper in Political Research Quarterly, state policies mirror the personalities of the public. If so, the personalities of Californians may veer toward being gun runners while they endorse bans on guns, and having $500 billion in debt while declaring their budget balanced.

    Jeffery Mondak and Damarys Canache, political science professors at the University of Illinois, analyzed survey data from more than 600,000 Americans, identified by state, who had participated in another research study. They then matched that data with state-level measures of political culture, as identified by other, unrelated research.

    They found the results striking - "Variation in personality across the American states corresponds quite strongly with states' core political characteristics."

    They do not try to create cause and effect, that can be left to social psychologists, but they make a correlation between collective personality traits and political culture within states.

    Establishing the connection is significant, Mondak said. "It's important that we figure out what makes individuals tick and then how that connects to what makes societies tick. Now we know that these individual-level psychological properties are related – and strongly related – to key aspects of political culture that have been studied for decades."

    Mondak's study of personality and politics is based on the "five factor" or "Big Five" model used to model personality since the late 1980. The model provides a structure for grouping hundreds of personality traits under five broad dimensions: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness (friendly vs. more distant) and neuroticism (or its reverse, emotional stability). If it sounds familiar, it is the sociological train wreck that has led to sweeping conclusions that liberals are superior in every way to conservatives in America.

    To put its validity into proper perspective, a lot of those online personality tests offering to tell you which U.S. president or "Seinfeld" character you're most like, are based on the "Big Five". Science 2.0 even created one to tell you which character from The Iliad you are most like.

    All of the five dimensions are on a continuum. Being open to experience, for instance, can make someone more open to both good and bad, and healthy and unhealthy, behaviors. Psychologists have tried to say that being less open to experience makes political conservatives motivated by fear, for example, which is also how political liberals always trying to ban everything.

    Among the researchers' findings was that states with lower levels of conscientiousness or higher levels of agreeableness were very likely to have a political culture that saw government as a positive force for the collective good. States lower in agreeableness were very likely to have a political culture focused on individualism and smaller government. Also, states that were higher in openness to experience have citizenries that tend to be ideologically liberal. New York and California mark high in openness, for example, but both states have seen measles come roaring back, so openness to denying acceptance science can clearly be a problem.

    States with higher levels of conscientiousness, on the other hand, were more ideologically conservative. Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee are examples.

    The scholars also found links between personality traits and other criteria related to political and civic culture. States that collectively showed more openness to experience, for example, had higher rates of women in state legislatures and home Internet access. Those high in conscientiousness had higher rates of violent crime, as well as lower rates of home Internet access.

    These links between personality and politics are all the more interesting because the difference in collective personality between states is small, Mondak said. "Individuals vary a lot in their personalities. States don't vary a lot. We're talking about just a few percentage points," he said.

    It's not that surprising, however, Mondak said, when you consider that a small swing of voters in closely contested states can result in dramatically different policies.