In 2014, a survey by the Pew Research Centre put the choice to Americans: would they prefer a smaller house where they could walk to restaurants and stores, or a larger one where amenities were miles away?
By an extraordinary 77 to 21 per cent, those voters defined by Pew as “consistent liberals” preferred the urban apartments, while by an equally staggering 75 to 22 per cent, “consistent conservatives” plumped for the big houses.
That finding is just one of several ways in which people’s voting intentions reflect their personality traits. Psychologists are increasingly interested in the extent to which we can guess people’s political preferences from apparently unrelated characteristics: where they buy their coffee, what they name their children, how much they flinch when shown a shocking image.
Conservatives, for example, like bigger cars as well as bigger houses. They are likelier to keep pets than Leftists, likelier to have dogs than cats, and likelier to have big than small dogs.
These findings are a little disquieting. We all like to think that we have come to our conclusions rationally after carefully weighing the facts. But the evidence suggests that very few of us do this. Most people’s political convictions are a product of their intuitions, which are in turn a product of their neural wiring. To a surprising degree, you can predict people’s party preferences from the size of their amygdalas.
There is something especially worrying about the urban/rural divide. As communities self-segregate, people become less likely to fraternise with supporters of other parties. On the morning after the general election, the BBC asked a young Labour supporter in London why she thought her party had fared so badly. “I don’t know,” she replied, genuinely nonplussed. “Everyone I know voted Labour”.
It is much easier to demonise strangers. We saw it happen during the culture war that followed the 2016 referendum, and we saw it again [at the last election].