Personality and Political Attitudes

I have addressed the association between personality traits and political attitudes

While the psychological underpinnings of social ideology are well established, less is known about the psychological underpinnings of economic ideology. In this study I assess whether Big Five personality traits are associated with economic ideology and when personality traits are more strongly or more weakly associated with economic ideology. I hypothesize that low income attenuates the association between the Big Five traits and economic ideology. Studies conducted in Denmark, the United Kingdom and the United States show that Conscientiousness is positively correlated with economic conservatism, while Agreeableness and Neuroticism are negatively correlated with economic conservatism. Moreover, low income attenuates the association between personality traits and economic ideology. I report a weaker association between Agreeableness and economic ideology among poor people compared to wealthier people in all three countries. Low income also attenuates the association between economic ideology and the traits Openness (Denmark), Extraversion (U.K.) and Neuroticism (U.S.). I contribute to the literature addressing the psychological correlates of economic ideology by showing that (1) economic ideology has a distinct set of personality correlates and (2) low income attenuates the association between some personality traits and economic ideology.


  • Bakker, B. N., & Lelkes, Y. (2017 – Revise & Resubmit). Selling ourselves short? How abbreviated measures of personality change the way we think about personality and politics. (Working Paper May 9 + Appendix)

Political scientists who study the interplay between personality and politics overwhelmingly rely on short personality scales. We explore whether the measurement of personality affected our understanding of personality and politics. We find that Need for Cognition (NfC) increases reliance on policy information, but that the effect is more than twice as large times when a longer measure is used. Counter theories of bounded rationality, but in line with theories of motivated reasoning, NfC also increases reliance on party cues, but only when a longer measure is employed. Finally, Big Five personality traits that been dismissed as irrelevant to political ideology yield stronger and more consistent associations when larger batteries are employed. We also show that Cronbach’s alpha and high factor loadings do not improve the criterion validity of our measures. To conclude, the measurement of personality conditions the conclusions we draw about the role of personality in politics.

  • Bakker, B. N. (2016). Personality and Political Ideology: Moving beyond the FFM Domains.

I study the association between personality and political ideology. I observe that ideology is often operationalized as a one-dimensional construct. Moreover, the majority of the study focus upon the associations between the higher-order domains, whereas lower level facets are not taken into account. Here, I move beyond the traits and address the associations between the FFM traits and facets with political ideology. I show that there is a fine-grained pattern of associations between political ideology and various FFM domains and their lower order facets. The paper is currently under review. Working paper version is available upon request.


Togehter with Claes de Vreese I work on a project addressing the psychological roots of European Union attitudes.

We still do not fully understand why attitudes towards the European Union (EU) differ among citizens. In this study, we turn to the Big Five personality traits Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism as antecedents of EU attitudes. We focus on attitudes towards widening and deepening of the EU, trust in EU institutions, identification with the EU, and negative affect experienced towards the EU. The nature of the EU attitude is expected to condition the strength and direction of the association of a particular EU attitude with a personality trait. The different Big Five traits are indeed predictors for some but not all EU attitudes. The results of our study imply that personality influences citizens’ responses to changes in the institutional set-up of the EU. You can read more about this article on LSE blog on European Politics and Policy as well as Democratic Audit UK

  • Bakker, B.N. & De Vreese, C.H. (2016). Personality and the stability and change in EU attitudes. (Paper is under review: send an email for the most up to date paper).

Why are some citizens more likely to change their attitudes towards the European Union compared to others? We put forward that the Big Five personality traits are associated with the tendency to change EU attitudes. We theorize and confirm in three panel surveys that open-minded citizens – who are curious, imaginative and willing to reconsider their beliefs – become more positive towards EU integration and the utility of the EU, while they experience less negative affect towards the EU. Conscientiousness and Neuroticism are related to changes in EU attitudes in some but not all years. Our study suggests that personality helps understand why some citizens change their EU attitudes in certain directions. We discuss the implications for the literature on EU attitudes.