Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race

STATE OF THE DISCIPLINE

PERSONALITY AND IDEOLOGY AS DETERMINANTS OF CANDIDATE PREFERENCES AND “OBAMA CONVERSION” IN THE 2008 U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

John T. Josta1 c1, Tessa V. Westa2 and Samuel D. Goslinga3

a1 Department of Psychology, New York University

a2 Department of Psychology, New York University

a3 Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin

Abstract

We conducted a longitudinal study involving 734 college students over a three-month period that included the 2008 U.S. presidential election. The study investigated factors such as respondents' personality characteristics and ideological proclivities in predicting perceptions of the major candidates and both stability and change in voting preferences for Barack Obama and John McCain. Previous research on personality and political orientation suggests that Openness to New Experiences is positively associated with liberal political preferences, whereas Conscientiousness is positively associated with conservative preferences; we replicated these results in the context of the current study. Several ideological factors also predicted conversion to Obama's candidacy. These included respondents' degree of self-reported liberalism, perceptions of their parents as liberal (versus conservative), and lower scores on measures of authoritarianism and political system justification (i.e., support for the prevailing system of electoral politics and government). The effects of Openness and Conscientiousness on candidate preferences were statistically mediated by ideological variables, providing further evidence that general predispositions exist that link personality and political orientation, and these are likely to play a significant role in electoral politics. Implications for the integration of “top-down” (institutional) and “bottom-up” (psychological) approaches to the study of political behavior are discussed.

Keywords

  • Personality;
  • Ideology;
  • Authoritarianism;
  • System Justification;
  • Political Behavior

Correspondence:

c1 Professor John T. Jost, Department of Psychology, New York University, 6 Washington Place, 5th Floor, New York, NY 10003. E-mail: john.jost@nyu.edu

John T. Jost is Professor of Social Psychology at New York University, where he has taught since 2003. He has also served on the faculties of the University of California at Santa Barbara and Stanford University. His research focuses on stereotyping, prejudice, social justice, political ideology, and system justification theory. He has published over seventy scientific articles and book chapters and has coedited four books, including Social and Psychological Bases of Ideology and System Justification (2009). He has received many professional awards and honors, including the Erik Erikson Award for Early Career Research Achievement in Political Psychology, the International Society for Self & Identity Early Career Award, the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Theoretical Innovation Prize, the Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize (three times), and the Morton Deutsch Award for Distinguished Scholarly and Practical Contributions to Social Justice. His research has been covered widely in the media, including ABC News Nightline, Newsweek, Scientific American, Psychology Today, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, and numerous national and international newspapers.

Tessa V. West is Assistant Professor of Psychology at New York University. She earned her PhD from the University of Connecticut in 2008, where she focused on advanced methodological and analytical techniques for the study of dyadic- and group-level processes. West studies interpersonal perception during complex interactions between two or more individuals. Her work focuses primarily on interactions between individuals who are of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. West has applied longitudinal methods to examining how interracial interactions between two strangers unfold over time.

Samuel D. Gosling is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. He earned his PhD at the University of California at Berkeley, where his dissertation focused on personality in spotted hyenas. In addition to his animal work, he also does research on Internet-based methods of data collection and on how individuals leave deliberate and inadvertent clues about themselves in everyday contexts, such as bedrooms, offices, Web pages, Facebook profiles, and lists of music preferences. His human research is summarized in his book Snoop: What Your Stuff Says about You (2008). Gosling has been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, and he is the recipient of the American Psychological Association's Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution.

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