Personality and Politics

In a series of studies, I have address the association between personality traits and political attitudes and behaviours.

  • Bakker, B. N., & Lelkes, Y. (2017 – conditionally accepted). Selling ourselves short? How abbreviated measures of personality change the way we think about personality and politics.

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.

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.


Abstract. What are the psychological roots of support for populist parties or outfits such as the Tea Party, the Dutch Freedom Party or Germany’s Die Linke? Populist parties have as common denominator that they employ an anti-establishment message, which they combine with some ‘host’ ideology. Building on the congruency model of political preference we expect that a voter’s personality should match with the message and position of her party. We theorize that a low score on the personality trait Agreeableness matches with the anti-establishment message and should predict voting for populist parties. We find evidence for this hypothesis in the United States, the Netherlands and Germany. The relationship between low Agreeableness and voting for populist parties is robust controlling for other personality traits, authoritarianism, socio-demographic characteristics and ideology. Thus, explanations of the success of populism should take personality traits into account.


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

Abstract: Following Hirschman, voters who are discontent with the party they voted for have two options: exit the party and vote for another or stay loyal. The inclination to exit or stay loyal is rooted in the Five Factor Model (FFM) of personality. We test our argument in two panel studies in Denmark and the United Kingdom (UK). We find that citizens open to experience are more likely to switch parties since they are more likely to think about alternatives and take risks. Extroverts identify and commit themselves to organizations and stay loyal in Denmark, but we do not confirm this pattern in the UK. Our findings demonstrate that electoral volatility is, at least partly, rooted in personality.


  •  B.N. Bakker, D.N. Hopmann & M. Persson (2015). Personality traits and party identification over time. European Journal of Political Research 54(2): 197-215. doi: 10.111/1475-6765.12070 (Click here to read the paper)

Abstract: Why do some people stably identify with a party while others do not? This study tests whether and how the direction, stability and strength of party identification are associated with big five personality traits, using panel data from a representative sample of German citizens. First, the study confirms that personality traits are related to identification with different political parties. Second, it moves beyond previous research by showing that personality traits are related to the strength and variation in party identification over time. The implications of the study for the classical perspectives on party identification, as well as the personality and politics literature, are discussed.



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