Personality Dispositions and Political Preferences Across Hard and Easy Issues



A wealth of theoretical and empirical work suggests that conservative orientations in the mass public are meaningfully associated with personality dispositions related to needs for certainty and security. Recent empirical research, however, suggests that (1) associations between these needs and economic conservatism are substantially weaker than associations with conservative identifications and social conservatism, and (2) political sophistication plays an important role in moderating the translation of needs into political preferences within the economic domain. The present article extends this work by offering a theoretical model of the heterogeneous translation of personality dispositions into political preferences across issues and issue domains. We argue that these needs structure preferences directly for highly symbolic issues like those in the social domain, but they structure preferences indirectly through partisanship for difficult issues like those in the economic domain. We test this theory utilizing a national survey experiment in the United States and explore its broader implications for both the literature on the psychological determinants of political ideology and for debates over the “culture war” in the United States.