Study Says “Like Kitties? You Might Be A Liberal!”

UntitledTime, in their Science and Space column, is using observations by social scientists to predict your political leanings based on your scaled responses to twelve simple statements, such as “I prefer cats to dogs.”  The statements are designed to look at your values and lifestyle choices.

Spoiler alert:  Go and take the test before reading what follows.

We created this survey by drawing on several sources. Research by Sam Gosling, at the University of Texas, has found that liberals generally score higher than conservatives on the trait of “openness to experience.” They are more likely to seek out new experiences (such as fusion cuisine), choose to watch documentaries, or enjoy art museums. They have less conventional notions of what is proper in a romantic relationship, so solo pornography consumption is OK. Conservatives are more likely to stick with what is familiar, what is tried and true. Hence, they are more likely to use a PC than a Mac and are more likely to stick with that PC’s default browser, Internet Explorer. Conservatives score higher than liberals on the trait of conscientiousness. They are more organized (neat desks), punctual, and self-controlled (rather than emphasizing self-expression).

Authors Jonathan Haidt and Chris Wilson admit that the responses to any one of the twelve items is a poor predictor of your political leanings, but they believe that taken together, they create a moderately accurate picture of you as a voter.

It’s fun. I took the test, and because I own a Mac, like museums, enjoy trying new cuisines, and have a desk that is more messy than neat, I was ranked 40% liberal, 60% conservative. Trust me – this is not supported by my voting record. Although it’s mostly harmless, it’s a bit scary. Think of all the data being collected about your habits on a daily basis. Do you use dog food coupons?  You might be a conservative!  Buy a Groupon for that new Thai restaurant down the street? You might be a liberal!

Stereotypes may have a small basis in truth, but it’s dangerous to use them to predict someone’s behavior. It’s the same kind of thinking that assumes if you are black, you must be a liberal, or if you are older and white, you must be a conservative.  Worse, it’s the same kind of thinking that makes you feel safer with a clean-cut guy in a suit than with a guy with dreads in blue jeans.  Hypothetically, would you rather hitch a ride with Bob Marley or Ted Bundy?

People are complex. They aren’t simply the sum of their genes, their years, their hobbies, their musical preferences, and their buying habits.  I like dogs more than cats, but I like cats.  My Labrador retriever didn’t make me vote for Romney.

In my iTunes, a few of the artists in the B group include The B-52s, Bad Meets Evil, Battlefield Band, The Beatles, Beethoven, Beyoncé, Bill Withers, Billy Idol, Billy Ray Cyrus, Bob Marley, Boston, Brahms, and Bruno Mars. All of the music has been legally obtained. Unconventional, but conscientious. Ponder that, social scientists, while I go eat some pho.

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