Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Mating Theory of the Partisan Divide

Most everyone agrees there is a partisan divide, that gap separating liberals and conservatives --  one that many say is widening, has led to congressional deadlock, and may or may not have something to do with global climate change thanks to all the hot air spewing forth from cable television "news."

More on cable news in a minute.

For those of you luckily innocent of social science research, let me warn you that there are lots of theories out there that attempt to explain what makes someone liberal or conservative.  Some focus on how you were raised, or some major socio-political event in your formative years, or even the kinds of schools you attended.

Now we have one that's more basic. It's all about mating.  Sex.  Reproduction. In other words, liberals drawn to liberals, conservatives drawn to conservatives.  According to this study published in Political Behavior, mating leads to, well, you know -- the making of more little liberals and conservatives.

The authors looked at dating profiles (how neat is that?).  I have access to the full study through my university account (email me if you want a copy).  They find:
...that liberals and conservatives do not differ wildly in their assortative tendencies, with both groups typically demonstrating a strong preference to date similar others. This suggests that our desire for social homogamy influences who we encounter as we date, and then within that group of like individuals we inevitably choose a partner who shares our political preferences. That is, assortation on factors other than
ideology could be driving assortation on ideology.
This is PhDspeak for liberals wanna date liberals, conservatives wanna date conservatives.  Conservatives were "less accepting of dissimilarity" than liberals, at least when it comes to potential mates.  This fits other studies that find media fragmentation along cable news networks to be even greater among conservatives or Republicans.  Other research suggests conservatives are less open to ideas that challenge their predispositions than are liberals.

Who would've thought it also applies to mating habits?

So, as the authors point out, "like seeks like," but this ideological pairing seems to be "a fairly modern phenomenon." 

In the "yes it gets worse" category, their computer simulation suggests this will lead to a greater divide among subsequent generations.  The partisan divide, made wider through reproduction.  There's a joke in there somewhere.

A number of factors may blunt this trend, they note.  I suppose that's the good news.  But in general the results suggest mate selection may lead to even greater polarization, as if the country could get even more polarized.

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