Heads, Hearts, Left, Right
By Bryan Caplan
How often have you heard the old saying, “If you’re not a liberal at 20, you have no heart; if you’re still a liberal at 30, you have no brain”? Right or wrong, Drew Westen’s The Political Brain gives me the feeling that this saying has never crossed his path:
Democrats, and particularly Democratic strategists, tend to be intellectual. They like to read and think. They thrive on policy debates, arguments, statistics, and getting the facts right.
All that is well and good, but it can be self-destructive politically when alloyed with a belief in the moral superiority of the cerebral at heart, because moral condescension registers with voters.
A few years ago I ran an exploratory study on personality type and party identification; later I came across a much better publicly available data set on this topic. In both cases, there was basically no partisan difference on the Myers-Briggs dimension of Thinking vs. Feeling. At least in modern America, it looks like the old saying and Westen are both wrong. Both parties contains roughly comparable ratios of Thinkers and Feelers.
Furthermore, though I’m not aware of any data specifically about the personality type of political strategists, standard occupational personality patterns suggest that strategists from both parties will be Thinking.
So why do both conservatives and liberals like to think of themselves as Thinking? Robin might say that “Thinking is high status,” but is it? You might assume that high-IQ people would be Thinking, but it’s hard to detect this pattern in the data.
Admittedly, if you’re Thinking yourself, you probably think that Thinking people are better than Feeling people. But Feeling people presumably think (feel?) the opposite. So what gives?