Is There a Relationship Between Politics, Religion, and Personality?

Updated on October 29, 2017
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Catherine Giordano is a writer and public speaker who often writes and speaks on topics related to science, philosophy, and religion.

Personality, Politics, Religion

We all have different personalities, but does our personality affect our political and religious views?
We all have different personalities, but does our personality affect our political and religious views? | Source

What Does the Research About Personality Show Us?

Research studies have consistently shown an association (a correlation) between personality and political and religious views. Conservatives are different from liberals. Likewise the non-religious, the mainline religious, and the fundamentalist religious differ from one another.

These studies have found that certain types of personality traits are more likely to found among one group of people than in others. Correlation does not mean that everyone in a particular group has the trait associated with that group—political and religious identity is complicated and dependent on more than just personality. And most importantly, correlation is not causation.

How can we explain these correlations? (1) Does a certain type of person choose to become part of a particular group? (2) Does being a member of a particular group mold one’s personality in a particular way? (3) Are the correlations spurious—is a third factor that is correlated with both personality and politics/religion is causing the latter to be correlated with the former? (4) Do people chose to belong to groups where there are a lot of people like themselves? (5) Is there a feedback loop wherein being a member of a group causes a change in one's personality so that the person more closely resembles the norm for the group?.

The most likely explanation may be: All of the above.

Personality Traits

Everyone is a complex mixture of personality traits.
Everyone is a complex mixture of personality traits. | Source

How is Personality Measured?

Most research in this area asks the study subjects to take a personality test and also assesses their political or religious beliefs through a series of questions.

There are two main types of tests used to assess personality. One is the Meyers-

Briggs Assessment and the other is the Big Five Factors or the Hexaco Test. (These last two are very similar so for convenience I will lump them together.)

Meyers-Briggs

The Meyers Briggs Assessment measures eight personality traits using four pairs of traits consisting of one trait and its opposite trait. Each trait is denoted by a letter. The four pairs are

  • Extraversion (E) – Introversion (I) (Where you focus your attention)
  • Sensing (S) – Intuition (N) (The way you take in information)
  • Thinking (T) – Feeling (F) (How you make decisions)
  • Judging (J) – Perceiving (P) (How you deal with the world)

The end result is 16 personality types assigned according to which one of the traits from the eight pairs is dominant. For instance, I am a ENTJ, described at the “Commander”—a bold, imaginative, strong-willed leader.

Since 16 types can be a little unwieldy, they are often reduced to four broad types, by assigning each of the 16 types into one of four broad types. These four types are:

  • Analysts (Intuitive and Thinking)
  • Diplomats (Intuitive and Feeling)
  • Sentinels (Sensing and Judging)
  • Explorers (Sensing and Perceiving)

For example, since I am a ENTJ, I belong to the “Analysts” category.

My Meyers Briggs personality identification probably explains why I worked in the field of market research my whole life and ran my own market research company for the last 25 years.

For more information about Myers Briggs, please see 16 Personalities and Humanmetrics.

The Big Five/Hexaco

The “Big Five” personality traits (as quoted from Wikipedia) are:

  • Openness to experience: inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious
  • Conscientiousness: efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless
  • Extraversion: outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved
  • Agreeableness: friendly/compassionate vs. challenging/detached
  • Neuroticism: sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident

The Hexaco traits (as quoted from Wikipedia) are:

  • Honesty-Humility (H): sincere, honest, faithful, loyal, modest/unassuming versus sly, deceitful, greedy, pretentious, hypocritical, boastful, pompous
  • Emotionality (E): emotional, oversensitive, sentimental, fearful, anxious, vulnerable versus brave, tough, independent, self-assured, stable
  • Extraversion (X): outgoing, lively, extraverted, sociable, talkative, cheerful, active versus shy, passive, withdrawn, introverted, quiet, reserved
  • Agreeableness (A): patient, tolerant, peaceful, mild, agreeable, lenient, gentle versus ill-tempered, quarrelsome, stubborn, choleric
  • Conscientiousness (C): organized, disciplined, diligent, careful, thorough, precise versus sloppy, negligent, reckless, lazy, irresponsible, absent-minded
  • Openness to Experience (O): intellectual, creative, unconventional, innovative, ironic versus shallow, unimaginative, conventional

Politics

Your political choices might be influenced by your personality.
Your political choices might be influenced by your personality. | Source

How Do Personality and Politics Align?

The very words used to identify the two opposing political groups show an intuitive understanding of the differences in the personality traits that define each group. Liberal implies openness and conservative implies tradition and discipline, and that is exactly what researchers have found.

  • Liberals generally score higher on “Openness.” They are more curious, innovative, and unconventional. These traits make them more open to new ideas and more tolerant of uncertainty. They also score higher for compassion.
  • Conservatives on the other hand, score higher on “Conscientiousness” They are more organized, disciplined, conventional, and even more polite. Their desire for orderliness makes them less tolerant of ambiguity and change. They want to preserve the status-quo and tend towards authoritarianism.

One researcher looked at traits and politics by state, comparing the residents of blue states to those of red states. He found that blue states scored higher for “Openness” while red states score higher for “Conscientiousness.”

Another study measured reaction to fear stimuli. They measured how much people sweat when shown scary visual images and how strong their startle response was to loud noises. Liberals showed less sensitivity to fear.

  • People who supported liberal policies such as foreign aid, gun control, generous immigration plans, and pacifism were less fearful.
  • People who supported policies associated with conservatism such as higher defense spending, capital punishment, and greater approval of war showed higher levels of fear. Conservatives see the world as a more-threatening place compared to liberals.

Sources: Can You Guess a Person's Politics by Their Personality? Psychologist Team Says Yes

Religion

Your religious choices might be influenced by your personality.
Your religious choices might be influenced by your personality. | Source

How Do Personality and Religion Align?

The Meyers-Briggs personality groupings show that religious people are most like to be “Sentinels,” while the non-religious tend to be “Analysts.”

  • “Sentinels” like guidelines, tradition, standards, and loyalty. They tend to be inflexible.
  • “Analysts” require evidence for their beliefs. They like to think things through for themselves instead of just accepting standards and traditions.

Using the Big Five personality groupings show the same results.

  • Religious people score high for “Agreeableness” and “Conscientiousness.” Agreeable people value social harmony and we can see that religious people follow social norms (like belief in God). Conscientious people are probably drawn to religion because they value order and discipline.
  • The non-religious score high for Extraversion and Openness. Humor, play, and social change are more important to them.
  • Fundamentalists have the lowest scores on openness, consistent with their strict norms about conformity and adherence to authority.

By the way, the personality traits of the conservatives line up nicely with those of the religious, just as the personality traits of liberals line up with those of the non-religious. I guess that is why we have the “religious right” and “Godless left.” However, while most conservatives are religious, only a very small proportion of liberals are “godless.” This is because atheists/agnostics are such a small proportion of the population.

By the way, Donald Trump is clearly someone who is an authoritarian personality. Did he win the support of Evangelicals, despite flaunting the "Christian values" they hold so dear, because fundamentalists want a strong authority figure.

Source Religion and Personality Type and Religion and Personality

How Does Intelligence Align with Religion?

Religion also appears to be correlated with intelligence. Specifically, religious people tend to have lower IQ’s. It is usually assumed that IQ determines religiosity and not vice versa. This is because IQ remains stable throughout life whereas one’s degree of religiosity can vary at different times of one’s life.

Intelligent people are less likely to be drawn toward religion because they place a high value on data and evidence and a low value on conformity.

  • Intelligent people tend to rely on data for their beliefs. As we have seen, non-religious people are more likely to be “Analysts,” a group defined by this trait. Thus intelligent people may be less likely to be attracted to religion which places a high value on faith, not evidence.
  • Intelligent people tend to be intellectual and curious. They also tend to be non-conformist. Religious people score low on Openness and high on Conscientiousness, the opposite of what we see in intelligent people.

But bear in mind, there are plenty of people who are both smart and religious just as there are plenty of people who are atheist/agnostic and stupid.

Source: Why Are Religious People Generally Less Intelligent

Fox News May Be Dangerous

Avoid Fox News or you may fall ill with Fox Geezer Syndrome.
Avoid Fox News or you may fall ill with Fox Geezer Syndrome. | Source

Can Politics Change a Person’s Personality?

So far, the evidence is anecdotal, but it appears very persuasive. The personality change may not be due to political identity per se, but due the consumption of media that targets a certain political identity.

Specifically, conservative media is having a negative impact on personality. Perhaps Fox News and Rush Limbaugh should come with a warning, such as: Warning excessive consumption of this show may be hazardous to your health.

I could find no reports of liberal media (like MSNBC) having a negative impact on personality. Perhaps because this is because liberal media is more conscientious about sticking to actual facts along with opinion.

Here are three anecdotes:

  • In 2016, Jen Senko published a documentary, The Brainwashing of My Dad, about how her father began listening to Rush Limbaugh on his car radio during his commute to his job. Soon after he started watching Fox News. Here is how she described how her father’s personality underwent a radical change from easy-going to obnoxious.

Jen wrote on The Daily Beast website:

”Slowly, my Dad’s openness to all people began to change. He started mocking feminists and defending SUVs.… my Dad became angry all the time, argumentative, and hateful of particular groups of people. Of all things, he began lashing out against gay people.…He railed against “liberal universities.” He railed against illegal immigrants and Mexicans, and literally started telling my mother she should wait on him because he was the man of the house.”

Source: How Fox News and the Right Wing Media Machine Made My Dad Crazy

  • In 2011, Richmond Ramsey wrote an article on the FrumForum—a site edited by David Frum which according to the home page is “dedicated to the modernization and renewal of the Republican party and the conservative movement.” Ramsey wrote a piece a called The Geezer Syndrome. He wrote:

“Over the past couple of years, I’ve been keeping track of a trend among friends around my age (late thirties to mid-forties). … over how our parents have become impossible to take on the subject of politics. Without fail, it turns out that our folks have all been sitting at home watching Fox News Channel all day – especially Glenn Beck’s program. It wasn’t that I disagreed with [my parents’] opinions – though I often did – but rather that I found the vehemence with which they expressed those opinions to be so off-putting…Then I flew out for a visit, and observed that their television was on all day long, even if no one was watching it. What channel was playing? Fox. Spending a few days in the company of the channel– especially Glenn Beck, it all became clear to me. If Fox was the window through which I saw the wider world, for hours every day, I’d be perpetually pissed off too."

Source: Fox Geezer Syndrome

  • In 2012, Karoli Kuns wrote on the website Crooks and Liars about a facebook post that was written by Tracy Knauss. Tracy wrote:

“I know this personally. FOX News killed my precious mother, Hallie. She watched FOX religiously. And when she fell ten days before she died, she refused to go to the doctor because, ‘I don't want Obamacare to get all of my information!’ she declared, recalling the warnings from FOX News ‘anchors.’ She was emphatic… And her last protestation dealt with ‘Obama's death panels.’ Mother died just days later. I hold FOX News responsible for my mother's death.”

Kuns warns:

“Don't write this woman off as some ignorant back-country hick. She clearly wasn't. She owned a company at one time. She paid attention to events and politics in the news… She, like most of her neighbors, voted Republican. But until Fox News came along, Republicans weren't stupid. They had different philosophies about government and its role, but they weren't blatantly invested in advancing a lie-based ideology….”

Source: Fox News Lies; An Elderly Woman Dies

I had the opportunity to speak with Tracy Knauss and I learned that his mother was not an isolated case. He told me, "Since that article was published at least two dozen people contacted me saying similar things happened to their parents who were brainwashed by Fox News."

This is actual coffin for Tracy Knauss' mother.
This is actual coffin for Tracy Knauss' mother. | Source

These stories remind me of the time a few years ago when I had left the television on and went to my desk in another room to work. I could still hear the TV. I don’t know why, but Glenn Beck was on. Glenn Beck was actually getting me scared until I remembered that it was Glenn Beck, a purveyor of bizarre conspiracy theories. I got up and turned the TV off.

It Takes All Kinds

We should be careful not to assume that one type of personality is better than another. Every personality type has something to contribute. The world functions best when all the different types cooperate and collaborate with one another.

By the way, the personality traits of the conservatives line up nicely with those of the religious line up as do those of the liberals and non-religious. I guess that is why we have the “religious right” and “Godless left.” However, while most conservatives are religious, only a very small proportion of liberals are “godless.” This is because atheists/agnostics are such a small proportion of the population.

What Do You Think:

Do you think that your personality has influenced your beliefs?

See results

© 2017 Catherine Giordano

I look forward to receiving your comments.

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    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Reamikenow: The research only shows correlations. As the article states, the correlations are far from 100%. Consequently, not every person who self-identifies as a member of a particular group will have the personality traits associated with that group.

      As for the difference among twins, personality is probably shaped by one's genes, but many other things go into the formation of personality. And far more than personality determines which religious or political group you join.

      Thanks for your comment.

    • Readmikenow profile image

      Readmikenow 2 months ago

      I don't know about a connection. I'm a Christian and have had some very passionate disagreements other Christians who are on the opposite political spectrum. We still believe the same things when it comes to our faith. I've agreed on political issues with a friend who is a Muslim. Personality is a tough one. I know there are people who are like me in the other political spectrum. I've spoken with them. I have a friend who is banned from his brother's house because my friend supports Trump. They're identical twins. So, I believe it's possible for there to be a connection. I just don't think it is too influential.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Larry Rankin: The relationship between personality and worldview does seem so obvious once you stop to think about it.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 months ago from Oklahoma

      Of course ones personality affects their world view and the world affects their personality.

      Always enjoy your analysis.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      You do this very well "but they can offer insight and useful understanding of the human condition."

      I think we must stay beholding to this notion.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 months ago from Orlando Florida

      McKenna Myers: Thanks for your comment. Repetition is an effective tool for conditioning. I also think the authoritarian traits of conservatives makes them like repetition. They like being told what to think and do. My guess is even if you tuned into a radio show with views that you agreed with, you'd quickly grow bored with repetition. Liberals, according to the research, like to be mentally challenged and to learn new things. Again, the disclaimer: The personality profile is based on probability and not absolutes.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Eric Dierker: You and I are on opposite sides of the fence about religion and probably in our politics too. I appreciate that you read my posts despite this. You say most Americans are "moderate." I don't even know what the word "moderate" means any more with respect to politics--I think most of the views espoused by those who are called liberals are very moderate. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I agree the "soft sciences" like psychology and sociology are less likely to be definitive, but they can offer insight and useful understanding of the human condition.

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      Catherine Giordano 2 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Setank Setunk: Thanks for your comment. I agree with you that dogma (religion) is important for social cohesion and its effect on the individual. The question is why to some personality types reject dogma while others embrace it.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 months ago from Orlando Florida

      FlourishAnyway: it's always a pleasure to hear from you. It seems we are very much alike in our personality types and life philosophy. We are also alike in finding that we get smarter with age. I'm apparently more extroverted than you are (according to Myers-Briggs) and that is perhaps why I am speaking out more on religion and politics.

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      Catherine Giordano 2 months ago from Orlando Florida

      sybol: Thanks for your comment. I did say in the article that personality is not the only thing that determines religious and political views; I didn't even say it was one thing. I said, the research into this suggests that personality plays a role. The correlations are not perfect and correlation is not causation. I took great claims to make these disclaimers very clear.

    • letstalkabouteduc profile image

      McKenna Meyers 2 months ago from Bend, OR

      This is fascinating (and funny, too) Catherine. I think conservative radio can influence one negatively because it's so darn repetitive. Last year I listened to Sean Hannity while picking up my son from school just to hear a different viewpoint. What amazed me is how he says the same thing over and over. He has about 20 minutes of material that he stretches into a three hour show. I think older folks may be susceptible to such repetition. It just made me nutty.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I am always suspicious of the "disciplines" of sociology and psychology venture into the areas of black and white. You did a great job writing as always.

      I think that a great deal of our nation is fiscally conservative and socially and environmentally liberal. I think that most of our nation are moderates. I think that most of our country are aligned with a religion but not fundamentalists, with minimal religiosity.

      Anecdotal references are far too small of a sampling to be statistically helpful. EIS and NPR both running over 14 million listeners. You cannot see how a war is going by interviewing a man in a fox hole.

      As always you bring a great topic up for discussion and I learned a great deal. Thank you.

    • profile image

      Setank Setunk 2 months ago

      Very nice article. I do however side with those who question the practice of labeling personality types or learning types and so-on.

      Yet your point is relevant regarding dogma and personality. Dogma evolved with the habit of humans to congregate in groups too large to accommodate familial and empathic capabilities. Dogma helps define and filter sensory overload but also diminishes true compassion or empathy.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 months ago from USA

      I'm an INTJ (an Analyst of the strategic thinking variety). I'm also not religious and never have been. It's not something that drives me passionately ... it's just a nonissue with me, although I am fine with others' loving but nonjudgmental religious thoughts. I call myself a failed Buddhist. I like to think I'm as smart as my IQ says I am but who knows? The older I get, the more liberal my values become. I have a live and let live philosophy.

    • sybol profile image

      sybol 2 months ago

      I don't think so. I have seen many, many mixtures In both categories. Experiences, family background, environment, and friendships play a big role in political views and religious beliefs.