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The Daily
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Getting politics down to a science

What is it that makes one person vote Democratic and another Republican?

Barry Burden, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, sums up some of the recent research done on this question. It focuses on what psychologists have identified as the "Big 5" personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, agreeableness, emotional stability and extraversion.

"People who score high on openness to experience (curious, original) and agreeableness (friendly, trusting) tend to vote Democratic or lean in a liberal direction," Burden writes in an email. "People who score high on conscientiousness (organized, efficient) and emotional stability (even tempered, balanced) tend to vote Republican or lean in a conservative direction.

"Being extroverted doesn't seem to favor either party."

Suzanne and Keevin Allen say these findings hold true for them - but only to a point.

"I think I'm more open to experience, perhaps," Suzanne says. "I am mostly trusting." And she agrees that Keevin is even-tempered and conscientious: "He's very thoughtful of others."

But organized and efficient? "Absolutely not," she says of her husband. "That's me."

Keevin concedes the point, but maintains that he is organized and efficient at work, if not at home.

Burden also mentions other research showing that "people who value black-and-white thinking tend to go Republican while those who value 'cognitive complexity' [or areas of gray] lean Democratic." He recalls George W. Bush's famous proclamation, "You are either with us or against us."

"That kind of clear statement is more appealing to those who value decisive statements rather than subtleties," Burden says.

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism ( collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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