Obama Or Palin? Political Orientation May Trump Looks, Personality

A new study of 5,000 married couples shows that Americans tend to walk in “political lockstep” throughout their relationship.

In an article to be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Politics, researchers examined physical and behavioral traits in thousands of spouse pairs in the United States. They found that political attitudes were among the strongest shared traits — stronger, even, than qualities like personality or looks. The only attribute that scored slightly higher than political views was the frequency of church attendance.

People “placed more emphasis on finding a mate who is a kindred spirit with regard to politics, religion and social activity than they (did) on locating similar mates in terms of physique or personality,” according to the article. We did expect to find a strong political bond between husbands and wives,” said political scientist John R. Hibbing of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a co-author of the study. “But we were surprised that political concordance seems to exist from the very early years in the marriage, instead of the folk wisdom of mates growing more alike politically as their relationship goes along.”

Lead study author John Alford says that “It suggests that, perhaps, if you’re looking for a long-term romantic relationship, skip ‘What’s your sign?’ and go straight to ‘Obama or Palin?'” Alford said. “And if you get the wrong answer, just walk away.”

My wife and I don’t share the same political orientation. What about you? In your experience, how much do politics matter in relationships? Read the article here and weigh in by posting a comment below.

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  1. 1

    It is a rule and there are exceptions to the rule.
    One of my friends is extremely liberal, dated a lot of liberal guys, those relationships went nowhere and she has been happily hooked for over 2 years in a James Carvel/Mary Madeline relationship.     They share similar upbringings and their personalities fit together very well.     Though there have been some arguments as the result of drunken political ramblings, they are very careful either to respect each other or not talk politics.
    I think mixed relationships can work if the political or religious views that clash aren’t held strongly enough to create issues in daily life.

  2. 2

    I dated a conservative guy and we had a really good relationship. We did make a pact at the very beginning not to talk about politics. Though, truth be told, after we broke up, I felt some relief due to the fact that I wouldn’t have to walk on eggshells anymore.
    I’d say, if both are leaning towards the center, it may work. If one person is on the far right and the other on the far left, forget it. Also, it is probably more difficult to pull off during election years. In my 14 years in the country, I’ve noticed that election years seem to bring out the worst in people. Everyone’s polarized to the extreme. My ex and I had my dad compare us to Hitler in 2004 just because we voted for Kerry 🙂
    Online, BTW, everyone lists “middle of the road”. Then you meet the person, and it’s anything but middle of the road. At least guys have found the right box to check off in order to get more dates, good for them 😉

  3. 3

    When i was married, the political differences tended to grow over time.   When it ended, I found myself attributing much of his behavior to his being a Republican, i.e., indifferent to the needs of others, competitive rather than compromising, libertarian [irresponsible], etc.
    Since being on my own, my progressive views have grown stronger, and it would be very hard to be full time with someone of the opposite persuasion.   [Although David Brooks is by far my fave Republican and a person i think one could converse with.]

  4. 4

    Evan and his wife are complete opposites politically and I have no doubt they have a great marriage. It’s important to have similar values and compatible personalities. Religion is also pretty important. But people put way to much emphasis on politics! Granted, the couples studied were married but I doubt this is what’s holding them together.  

    Best wishes,

  5. 5

    Goldie #2 wrote:
    Also, it is probably more difficult to pull off during election years. In my 14 years in the country, I’ve noticed that election years seem to bring out the worst in people.

    LOL! Too true. I love it though. I am missing the gene that enables me to enjoy following football, basketball, baseball or another sport. The presidential election is like the superbowl season for me. I eat up every event, every detail and every comment. It is a bit of “soccer insanity” that happens once every four years.

  6. 6

    I’m not surprised by the study. I have best friends who think radically different from me on political and spiritual issues, and the friendships are great even though we HAVE ruffled each other’s feathers.   But, I wouldn’t choose to marry someone who’s views were radically different. Because who we are at our core, has everything to do with how we think, behave, and problem solve. Our political or spiritual viewpoint is an extension of our core.

    It would make sense then  to choose someone like minded. Marriage  and raising children is difficult enough without the added arguments and stand-offs that can occur when two people have  drastically differing  views.

    Can it work? Yes, absolutely.  And the degree  to which someone  aligns themselves politically matters too. But  like  speaks to like and that’s what is happening here. Normal human behavior, IMO.  

  7. 8

    I’m very liberal and all my friends are pretty liberal too. I find the conservative viewpoint insufferable, and would find it hard to be around someone much more conservative. I do follow politics and am not interested in arguing with my partner about their views, or having to avoid talking politics for fear of starting a fight. It appears that couples like James Carville and Mary Matalin are the exception that proves the rule.

  8. 9

    “Then you meet the person, and it’s anything but middle of the road”

    That’s because there’s regional, class and subcultural norms. In the social circles I choose to dwell within (young, minority, middle class) my political beliefs are common, and well within the median. In the region I live in, however, they’re fringe.  In turn,  when it comes to the entirety of the  country, the predominant political slant of my *region* is considered comically  fringe. So, it’s all relative. People are going to gravitate towards social groups where  their beliefs are considered  normal so they can  be able to define  themselves that way.

    I think political beliefs are  a big  part of the reason that young women are notably  disinterested in dating men of a certain age… there’s a gaping  chasm there that played out last election.

    4 But many, many  people see their political beliefs as a public  expression of their values and/or religion – that’s why it’s so contentious. It’s not exactly  like having a favorite sports team… although, like Steve, I enjoy that aspect of politics  in lieu of actual sporting events. There’s also the general truth that people tend to become more strongly entrenched in their political beliefs over time. If someone decides to take a strong right or left turn, it’s way less cute, especially if they percieve themselves as the appointed  leader and moral compass of the family.

    That being said, there’s a bit of a  dilemma. A good deal of liberal women desire men who  adhere more strictly to traditional gender roles  and have a serious  interest in  starting a family in a timely fashion. Conservative men are just  more likely to do those things in tandem, but they’re often rejected on the basis of the belief system that  lays the foundation for  these behavioral patterns.

  9. 10

    I was actually surprised with how the political affiliations in my marriage turned out.   When I was younger I thought I’d marry someone intensely interested in politics, and we’d have our own long-winded debates about the merits of this plan/candidate  versus the other.   And then I married someone who is fairly apolitical, quite disenchanted with the political system of our country in fact.  

    So there  isn’t much in the way of political debates in our household; our political views  don’t arise much in discussion.   And there are areas we diverge in our political opinions.   But it’s never affected our relationship.   When I found someone who was funny, caring, smart, dependable, and loved me to pieces, I didn’t  really give a darn  whether he voted for the same person as me in the last election.   Just my $0.02.

  10. 11

    I was politically conservative, then I became liberal, now I’m more conservative.

    I don’t think I could base a relationship on political views. I don’t change my mind because it suits my own purposes, but because the world changes, our needs change and political party choices would then therefore change.

    Perhaps I would be suited to some-one who is more flexible politically then?

  11. 12

    There’s a school of thought that says “Oh, how often will it come up, why do you care?”, and to that I can only say “Because.” sometimes,  which sounds sorta petty.  If I date someone, say,  gay  rights  probably  won’t  come up all that often. But when it does, we need to be in line, because I have a gay sibling with a child in a world where a good deal of people don’t think it’s even acceptable for children to know of the existence of  gays, let alone be raised by them.  For many couples, abortion won’t come up all that often, but  if there’s a pregnancy scare, a “difference of opinion” on the issue can utterly  decimate a relationship that was chugging along just fine from the perspective of all involved.  If your gender politics are consistent with your dating habits,  it can create issues from day one with someone who differs significantly. There are people out there  whose lives are consistently  grazed by political crossfire, and they may want to feel certain that the person they share a bed with has their back. People who aren’t in the trenches may not share these concerns.

  12. 14

    This does not surprise me.   This country is the most divided it has been since the Civil War.   We can’t agree to disagree.   Somehow we have to equate one’s political leanings with whether they are good or bad.

  13. 15

    RE: Jadafisk’s #12

    Let’s talk about the two issues you brought up.   The first is gay rights.   I would guess that you are adamantly in favor of all gay rights.   For your date, though, the gay lifestyle isn’t his/her favorite, but doesn’t care to impede on their life choices.   Won’t vote for gay rights issues, nor against them.   I would certainly classify this as a difference of opinion.   Is it a dealbreaker though?  

    Or the other issue, abortion.   Politically, I’m very much pro-choice.   Personally, however, I’m pro-life.   And I think I have a lot of company with this particular stance.   So if I get pregnant, and am pro-choice, but my spouse is pro-life, we don’t have a conflict.  

    Many people have distinctions between what they think the government’s role should be versus how an individual should act.   That could be on abortion, assisting the un/underemployed, involvement in international aid missions, etc.   The important thing is that core values are shared, not whether one’s view of government is the same.   For instance one person might be strongly in favor of governmental welfare programs because they feel the needy should be helped.   The other might be strongly against them, but believes (and does) give voluntarily to charities that assist this same population.   They have the same values, but choose to go about it differently, which would certainly affect which candidate they would back at election time.   But I fail to see why their difference in opinion about the role of government should negatively effect their relationship.

  14. 16

    Again, I think it is an oversimplification. As you pointed out in one of your articles, most people don’t really  spend a lot of time discussing politics with your mate in your day to day affairs, except maybe in the beginning when you are getting to know one another. I tend to be more conservative than my fiance, but we both have the same values for what we want in the world – peace, prosperity, clean environment, good education, social stability and security. While he would self-identify as a liberal, he doesn’t really follow much poltically or read about current issues. Therefore, if I do feel the need to discuss issues or news, I discuss these with my friends (of both parties) that follow the issues.

    I think that when you limit yourself in this fashion, you overlook a lot of great potential mates. I’ve seen plenty of couples that  vote differently and yet are extremely happy together.

  15. 17

    I am a Republican myself and cannot date a very liberal woman.   I don’t like to have political arguments with the women I date, but I have met some left-wing liberals who just seemed angry at the world and wanted talk about politics all of the time and complained about practically everything, which I find very unattractive.   There is nothing more annoying than being out on a date with someone who starts preaching about their political ideology and how every other political view is wrong, when that person’s date didn’t even want to discuss politics in the first place.
    Someone who has extreme political views (left or right) is almost never going to get along with someone who has opposite political viewpoints.

  16. 18

    This really isn’t too surprising. When you consider how nasty things got at the last election, that’s not really something you’d choose to have go on in your home.
    For me, it comes down to whether we can discuss something calmly, without getting upset and resorting to namecalling. As a result, I don’t do well with anyone on the radical right or left. I’m a slightly-left-of-center moderate who has friends across the political spectrum. My fiance is a right-of-center-moderate and we can talk about virtually any issue, come down on opposite sides, and it’s really no big deal. Neither one of us are particularly dogmatic about anything.
    I hate having to live with someone who I have to tiptoe around- like my dad. I enjoy politics and like to be able to discuss them without becoming acrimonious. You can believe just about anything, but if you can refrain from name-calling and using buzzwords in your political discussions, we can probably get along.

  17. 19

    I think it depends on the personalities of the two people in relationships. If both feel like they need to debate all the time and be proven correct, it’ll create a lot of trouble. If one or both of the people are very easy going and don’t really engage each other in conflict, opposing points of views probably won’t make a difference.
    I myself am conservative, however, and I feel much more at ease with someone else who is conservative. Especially living on the north-east US, I feel like finding a conservative is more “rare” and makes them more special.

  18. 20
    E. Foley

    My brother, who is a middle-leaning liberal, married a very conservative girl. They’re in the process of getting divorced, tho it was for reasons other than politics.

    My boyfriend and I are both liberal. He’s as far right as you can possibly get before falling off into Hippie-Land and driving a VW van around the country. I’m socially liberal and fiscally closer to the middle.

    I think as far as dating goes, it’s probably easier if the two people at least share some middle ground.

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