The Big Five in the Political Arena

In the 1980’s, social science research on personality traits was largely focused around what became known as the “Big Five”:  Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, and Openness to Experience.   

Characteristics of the Big Five Personality Traits 



Low on Trait

High on Trait


Reserved, serious, prefer 

to be left alone or with a 

few close friends 


Outgoing, active, and high- 

spirited, prefer to be 

around people 



Hardheaded, skeptical, 

proud, competitive 


Compassionate, good-natured, eager to cooperate 



Easygoing, careless, prefer not to make plans 


Well-organized, strive to 

achieve goals 


Emotional stability

Sensitive, emotional, prone 

to feelings that are upsetting 


Secure, hardy, relaxed under 

stressful conditions 


Openness to experience

Down-to-earth, practical, 


Broad interests, imaginative 

Over the past decade, a team of researchers led by Yale Political Scientist Alan Gerber have explored the relationship between the Big Five and political leanings.  But before exploring their findings, it is important to note that: 

  • Everyone can be described through this model.  Social psychologists use this system to describe the personalities of every individual without any value judgements and have developed a relatively simple survey for determining how each of us measure on this five point scale. 

  • The Big Five traits are largely independent of social and economic factors.  Evidence suggests that personality is largely inherited and geneticists have found specific genetic markers that correlate with specific Big Five personality traits.  Furthermore, the Big Five traits stay remarkably stable throughout the life cycle.  Although environmental factors can influence personality, you will find individuals all over the Big Five spectrum in all income groups and education levels.  
Lessons from research by Gerber and his colleagues revealed that.  

  • More Open and Extraverted individuals are more likely to express interest in politics. 
  • More Agreeable individuals are less likely to express an interest in politics. 
  • More Open and Emotionally Stable individuals scored higher on political knowledge tests.

In our next newsletter, we will explore how Big Five traits affect partisan identification.   

We invite you to read a 2011 article on the Big Five traits in the Annual Review of Political Science by clicking here and to take a quick, fun survey on your fit in the Big Five by clicking here.

As always, we invite you to join our conversation on social media with #chismstrat. 


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