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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.
The term “political behavior” encompasses a wide array of phenomena, most of which convey a sense of people interacting with, and responding to, the political stimuli that surround them. People follow contemporary political events by reading today's newspaper or watching this evening's TV news; they approve or disapprove of the job the president currently is doing; and they vote for candidates in this year's election. In light of this immediacy, it is understandable that most accounts of political behavior contemplate how people may be influenced by environmental forces, and especially by forces in operation just prior to the behaviors in question. Thus, a great deal of research examines matters such as the impact of news media on political attitudes, of partisan mobilization on voter turnout, and of campaign content on candidate choice. Or, reaching back to earlier influences, studies consider the effects of childhood political socialization, education, and the person's exposure to others within various social contexts.
To the extent that such research calls attention to one key set of determinants of political behavior, we should have no qualms about a focus on the influence of environmental forces. However, diligence is needed to ensure that such a focus does not produce analytical myopia. Any account of political behavior positing, either explicitly or implicitly, that only environmental forces matter necessarily assumes that people first encounter the world of politics as political blank slates. And that assumption is wrong.
From the outset, this study has been motivated by the thesis that personality is consequential for mass politics. More specifically, biological factors shape personality, which, in turn, functions as a persistent influence on political behavior. To examine the possible political effects of personality, the indicators constructed in Chapter 3 now must be put to work. In this chapter and the two that follow, a multitude of tests will be conducted to explore the possible political significance of variance in personality. Collectively, these tests offer a sweeping, multifaceted look at potential connections between the Big Five trait dimensions and a wide range of political phenomena. My strategy is to be as comprehensive as possible. Data from all three surveys are examined, and relationships of various forms are considered.
In this chapter, analyses center on political information, broadly defined. Included are tests regarding where citizens receive information about politics, patterns in social communication about politics, and the extent to which people are politically attentive, knowledgeable, and opinionated. In Chapter 5, the focus shifts to political attitudes and predispositions, followed in Chapter 6 by an investigation of the impact of personality on political participation. The dependent variables populating these three chapters constitute a representative array of the factors central in contemporary research on political behavior.
In each of these three chapters, a two-part analytical approach is employed. The first portion of each chapter reports tests regarding possible direct effects of personality on a wide range of dependent variables.
In a well-known routine from the mid 1970s, the late comedian George Carlin, an astute observer of language, made light of incongruent phrases such as “jumbo shrimp” and “military intelligence.” As a parallel to Carlin's list of words that “don't go together” we might add people in unlikely professions or roles, individuals such as a cautious daredevil, an unreflective philosopher, a disagreeable yes-man, or an introverted motivational speaker. Or, thinking of social and political actors, we might contemplate the rude and uncaring volunteer, the timid lobbyist, or the open-minded ideologue.
These individuals resist imagination because, by their nature, some types of people seem to be poor fits for certain occupations, avocations, and roles. The phrase “by their nature” refers to people's enduring tendencies, or traits. Many students of the psychology of individual differences examine the content and significance of basic traits. In simplest form, such inquiry involves a two-step process: Key differences in traits are identified, followed by exploration of possible relationships between these traits and attitudes and behaviors. Intuition and everyday experience underlie many of the patterns we can envision, in some cases to the point that relationships may seem virtually tautological. For instance, we expect scientists to be systematic, counselors to be sympathetic, and entertainers to be outgoing. But these relationships are not tautological. To the contrary, if we study these possible patterns and the resultant evidence corroborates our expectations, an exercise of this sort would demonstrate that traits matter.
Personality and the Foundations of Political Behavior is the first study in more than 30 years to investigate the broad significance of personality traits for mass political behavior. Drawing on the Big Five personality trait framework, Jeffery J. Mondak argues that attention to personality provides a valuable means to integrate biological and environmental influences in rich, nuanced theories and empirical tests of the antecedents of political behavior. Development of such holistic accounts is critical, Mondak contends, if inquiry is to move beyond simple 'blank slate' environmental depictions of political engagement. Analyses examining multiple facets of political information, political attitudes and participation reveal that the Big Five trait dimensions - openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and emotional stability - produce both direct and indirect effects on a wide range of political phenomena.
I write children's poetry and song lyrics, and also lyrics for songs in other genres. In 2008, I attended an annual gathering of songwriters in Nashville. I previously had met many of the people in attendance, whether at earlier gatherings, while working with them in their studios, or upon seeing their live performances. Several have cowritten songs with me. At this particular gathering, I attempted to round up a group to get up on stage and perform my parody of “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore,” a song called “Michael Closed the Bathroom Door.” The group was to be led by my friend and fellow political scientist Sergio Wals, who has often traveled with me for performances at elementary schools, bookstores, and libraries. The people Sergio and I approached all are seasoned, talented songwriters and musicians, and thus we did not envision much difficulty in signing up recruits for the song.
One person we asked was “Dan.” Dan told us that although he has been writing songs for thirty-five years, he had never yet played in public, and that this history certainly was not going to change in front of hundreds of people on stage in Nashville that evening. We also asked “Larry,” an extraordinarily talented studio guitarist, producer, and engineer. Larry shuffled his feet a bit and mumbled, “that sounds like fun, but I don't want to.” Lastly, we approached “Curt.” Curt answered, “Absolutely. Anything, any time, anywhere”.
Application of a five-factor approach to the study of political behavior first requires that data be gathered and scales be constructed. These tasks should not be taken lightly, especially given that the Big Five has only a thin track record in research on political behavior. All measurement procedures in the social sciences bring strengths and weaknesses, and it is important that these characteristics be recognized and their implications understood. Hence, this chapter offers a systematic look at the data sets and trait scales used in subsequent chapters to examine the possible political effects of the Big Five. Several specific matters receive attention in this chapter. First, this study's three surveys are described. Discussion then turns to the features of the Big Five batteries administered on these surveys, including review of coding and scale construction, item content, reliability, and the relationship between Big Five scales and demographics. Lastly, data on response rates and response time are assessed in an effort to glean insight regarding any possible logistical complications involved in use of Big Five batteries.
In the period 1998 to 2006, I had the opportunity to include personality batteries on three public opinion surveys that serve as the primary data sources in the present study. One of these surveys was entirely of my design, whereas the other two were collaborative omnibus projects in which I was a participant.
The central lesson of the previous chapter is that psychological differences – differences in personality – bring substantial variance to patterns in the acquisition of political information. This point gains significance to the extent that citizens draw on that information when forming opinions about policies, political candidates, elected officials, and political institutions and procedures. In its simplest form, political behavior involves citizen exposure to information about politics and government, the use of that information to provide structure to political attitudes and predispositions, and then introduction of those attitudes and predispositions for tangible acts such as voting in elections, writing letters to the editor of one's local newspaper, or attending PTA meetings. In Chapter 4, multiple relationships between personality and political information have been observed. In Chapter 6, I consider the impact of personality on political participation. To link these two lines of inquiry, my task in this chapter involves exploration of possible connections between the Big Five and what people think and believe regarding various facets of the political world.
Once again, a two-part analytical strategy will be employed to organize and guide attention to personality. In the first section of this chapter, possible direct personality effects are examined broadly. My objective is to identify a representative array of the attitudes and predispositions of interest to students of political behavior, and to assess whether variance in these attitudes and predispositions traces to fundamental psychological differences.
People's enduring psychological tendencies are reflected in their traits. Contemporary research on personality establishes that traits are rooted largely in biology, and that the central aspects of personality can be captured in frameworks, or taxonomies, focused on five trait dimensions: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability. In this article, we integrate a five-factor view of trait structure within a holistic model of the antecedents of political behavior, one that accounts not only for personality, but also for other factors, including biological and environmental influences. This approach permits attention to the complex processes that likely underlie trait effects, and especially to possible trait–situation interactions. Primary tests of our hypotheses draw on data from a 2006 U.S. survey, with supplemental tests introducing data from Uruguay and Venezuela. Empirical analyses not only provide evidence of the value of research on personality and politics, but also signal some of the hurdles that must be overcome for inquiry in this area to be most fruitful.
Variance in how citizens interact with the political world constitutes one of many classes of individual difference. Understanding the antecedents of this variance is the central objective for students of political behaviour, and researchers draw on numerous factors in addressing this task. Unfortunately, one potentially vital factor, personality, has received only sporadic attention in recent decades. Neglect of personality was understandable for many years, as psychological research on personality failed to produce concise taxonomies applicable to the study of politics. As the present analysis demonstrates, however, this situation has changed. Research on personality has gained new footing with the emergence of a series of five-factor models, and these frameworks hold great potential for the study of political behaviour. This thesis is advanced in a two-part analysis. First, we outline how and why our understanding of citizen politics may be improved through application of five-factor models of personality. In doing so, we focus on the components of one specific taxonomy, the Big Five lexical model. Secondly, using three datasets, we explore the link between the Big Five personality factors and a wide array of political attitudes and behaviours. Results reveal that all facets of personality captured by the Big Five framework matter for citizen politics, and that personality effects operate on virtually all aspects of political behaviour. These findings demonstrate the insight that can emerge with further application of broad-scale models of personality.