What happens when people pick dates and mates? Do politics play a role? Dr. Casey Klofstad and colleagues found that when writing an online dating profile, people looking for potential mates cast a wide net. Rather than sounding extreme, online daters often stated they were “middle of the road” on politics. But who do liberals and conservatives actually end up dating, and what are the implications of these pairings?
Dr. Klofstad et al. of the University of Miami conducted more research, looking at 2944 online dating profiles from 313 United States zip codes to find out about politics and Internet dating among heterosexuals.
Political Traits and Dating Choices
A paper Dr. Klofstad published in 2011 found that people selected dates based on attributes like weight, religion and education, rather than political preference. When choosing dates, Dr. Klofstad told Decoded Science, “as in many other animals, the female is the choosier sex.”
While women chose men based on smoking, body type and race, men were less concerned about these traits, and overall, liberals were less picky about body type.
The 2944 individuals in the most recent study rated themselves politically, according to the paper, “… as either ‘‘very liberal’’ (1.6 %), ‘‘liberal’’(8.8 %), ‘‘middle of the road’’ (56.6 %), ‘‘conservative’’ (15.5 %), ‘‘ultra conservative’’(1.5 %), ‘‘non-conformist’’ (2.0 %), ‘‘some other viewpoint’’ (11.0 %), or ‘‘no answer’’ (3.2 %).”
Those rating themselves as conservative tended to be men. Younger daters more likely to be liberal.
Daters also were able to check thirteen other traits, “race/ethnicity, faith/religion, body type, education, income, tobacco use, alcohol use, relationship status, having offspring (including details about whether offspring live in or out of the dater’s household), desire to have offspring, hair color, eye color, and languages spoken.”
The results? The researchers found “the main result from our data is that both liberal and conservative daters overwhelmingly seek partners who are more like themselves on almost all traits…yet they do not appear to place as much weight on politics as would be expected in studies of mate assortation.”
While individuals might not directly choose a date based on politics, other traits are indicators of political preference, such as education, with liberals valuing education more, and religion being more important for conservatives. Conservatives were also more likely to date someone of their own race. The end result was that liberals ended up dating liberals; conservatives ended up dating conservatives.
Implications of the Liberals and Conservatives Dating Those Like Themselves
When liberals date liberals and conservatives date conservatives, the children that result are not only culturally primed through learning and modeling to have the same political beliefs as their parents, but some research indicates that genetic factors are also involved. Over time, as “like seeks like” more political polarization is likely to occur, according to the researchers.
When “like seeks like…occurs over each successive generation, it will cause a widening of the variance in the assorted trait and more individuals at the extremes in the population. In the case of assortation on political preferences, the consequence is increased political polarization.”
In other words, when people date those like themselves and then raise children with those same beliefs, political thinking becomes more extreme. Mathematically, the researchers demonstrated this tendency would occur for 25 to 30 generations and then even out. So how much more polarized are our political leanings likely to become?
Dr. Klofstad stated in an exclusive interview with Decoded Science, “Reliable public opinion survey data only started being collected in the 1940s. So, since we don’t have survey data many generations into the past (or future) we don’t know where we are in this succession of generations. We can’t see whether we are at the equilibrium point in real time. We have to wait and see and compare where we are now to where we were in the past.”
While Dr. Klofstad states “Given the deep partisan divide in this country I expected to find differences between liberals and conservatives on dating preferences. But, it turns out that they behave very similarly. They both want dates like themselves by and large.”
Political Polarization and Election Ugliness
Given the tendency for our population to become more polarized, we may be in for rough times ahead. If you thought the last few election were full of vitriol, get ready: The next ones may be even worse.
Klofstad, C. et al. The Dating Preferences of Liberals and Conservatives. (2013). Political Behavior. Accessed September 15, 2013.
Jennings, M. & Niemi, R. The Transmission of Political Views From Parent to Child. (1968). American Political Science Review. Accessed September 15, 2013.
Klofstad, C. et al. Do Bedroom Eyes Wear Political Glasses? The Role of Politics in Human Mate Attraction. (2011). Human Evolution and Human Behavior. Accessed September 15, 2013.
Hatemi, P. et all. Not by Twins Alone: Using the Extended Family Design to Investigate Genetic Influence on Political Beliefs (2010). American Journal of Political Science. Accessed September 2013.
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