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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

2 - The Big Five Approach


The previous chapter represents a call to action. The relative neglect of personality in research on mass politics has occurred primarily because, for many years, adequate frameworks for the study of personality were unavailable. But this situation has changed. Developments in trait psychology have led to the construction of taxonomies possessing characteristics ideal for research on mass political attitudes and behavior. These frameworks, which have risen to prominence within the past two decades, are broad, multifaceted, well understood, and relatively easy to employ in empirical research. By utilizing one of these contemporary trait approaches, it should be possible to make substantial progress in exploring the potential political impact of variance in personality.

The particular perspective adopted in this study is the “Big Five” framework. Research on the Big Five holds that five traits collectively provide a highly comprehensive, hierarchical model of trait structure. Following convention, the broad traits, or dimensions, are labeled here as openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability. In later chapters, empirical indicators of these traits will be developed and the traits will be introduced as possible predictors of a wide array of actions and attitudes familiar in research on mass politics.

As a prelude to those analyses, this chapter offers detailed background on the Big Five for the benefit of those readers who may be unfamiliar with this research tradition and its origins. The discussion addresses three major themes. First, the essential components of the Big Five approach are described.

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