Tag Archives: vote


Brexit and Trump’s nomination were caused by a ‘sleeping’ community neuroticism

The latest US presidential election and the Brexit popular vote in the UK brought out the worst in voters — anxiety, anger and fear, a new study shows.


Image credits Gerd Altmann.

A lot of factors influence our political views, but research has shown that the best indicator of how people cast their vote are the Big Five personality traits — openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. For example, past studies have shown that low openness and high conscientiousness are good indicators of conservative political views.

However, as many people around the world can undoubtedly attest, 2016 was a strange and daunting year, politics-wise. The results of two events in particular — the US presidential election, and the Brexit referendum in the UK — took the world unawares. Both nations share deep democratic roots, and yet citizens from both were eager to back campaigns built on thinly-veiled populist themes — themes such as fear, lost pride, and loss aversion. The results were so shocking and so unexpected, an international team of researchers reports, because these votes weren’t dictated by the usual traits that govern our political choices; these elections harkened to anxiety, anger, and fear — traits from the domain of neuroticism.

Fear is the path to the dark side

“The models traditionally used for predicting and explaining political behavior did not capture an essential factor that influenced people’s voting decisions in 2016,” says lead author Martin Obschonka, a psychologist and associate professor at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

“We propose a kind of ‘sleeper effect.’ Under normal conditions these traits have no influence, but in certain circumstances, widespread anxiety and fear in a region have the potential to profoundly impact the geopolitical landscape.”

The study pooled data obtained from 417,217 British and 3,167,041 United States participants. The researchers used this information to estimate regional levels of fear, anxiety, and anger. Later, they compared these estimates against traits generally associated with political orientation (most notably openness and conscientiousness) in a bid to measure the relationship between regional psychology and voting behavior. Regions were country-level in the U.S. and on the level of local authority districts in the U.K.

The team reports finding a correlation between higher levels of anxiety and fear in a region and the percentage of voters in favor of Brexit or Trump. An even stronger correlation between the two was identified when expanding the search to include the 2012 election, when Mitt Romney was the Republican candidate — the 50 U.S. counties with the highest levels of fear and anxiety had an average 9% increase in Republican votes from 2012 to 2016, while the lowest 50 showed only a 2% shift. The effect was visible in the U.K. as well — the top 50 districts, by fear and anxiety levels, showed an average 60% vote in favor of Brexit, while the lowest 50 districts showing only 46% support.

“This finding supports our initial suspicion that the regions highest on neuroticism are particularly receptive to political campaigns that emphasize danger and loss and that previous campaigns have not tapped into these themes as strongly as we saw in 2016,” said co-author Sam Gosling, a psychology professor at the University of Texas, Austin.

Other factors considered in the analysis were an area’s industrial heritage, current economic conditions, its traditional political attitudes, racial composition, and its levels of education. In the U.K., both rural and industrial regions correlated to higher levels of anxiety, fear, and greater support for Brexit. In the U.S., the same traits were linked to higher support for Trump in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, and the Midwest “Rust Belt”.

Areas with higher population density, higher earnings, higher overall levels of education, and those who scored higher on the openness traits were likely to vote against Trump or the Brexit. Conscientiousness showed very little to no correlation with voting patterns, be they for or against the campaigns.

“Much as the consequences of a region’s fearful or anxious tendencies may remain hidden until certain conditions are met, there may be other regional characteristics that have the potential to influence geopolitical events but the necessary conditions have not yet materialized,” Gosling said.

The paper “Fear, Populism, and the Geopolitical Landscape: The ‘Sleeper Effect’ of Neurotic Personality Traits on Regional Voting Behavior in the 2016 Brexit and Trump Elections” has been published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.


People haven’t lost faith in democracy despite low voter turnouts, paper reports

Declining trends in voter turnout aren’t necessarily tied to people’s disillusionment with politics. In fact, this may be a product of how democracy takes hold in a country and the interplay of everyday factors.


Image credits Theresa Thompson / Flickr.

A while back I wrote about how democracy seems to be crumbling in the West — and a big part of what weakens democracies in the first place is popular disengagement with the political sphere. The two come together pretty neatly, pointing to an obvious conclusion: democracy is failing because people don’t rise up to their part of the deal, which is to actually go and vote.

Figures on voter turnout definitely support this conclusion. In the span of only one generation, countries that made the shift from single-party rule to free elections have seen double-digit declines in voter turnout. Romania, for example, has seen turnout decline by 47% since the founding elections, held in 1990 after the fall of communism, and 2010. South Korea has seen a 30% decrease from 1988 to 2008.

So why don’t we vote?

Common wisdom has held that this means people are disillusioned with politicians, which they feel are unresponsive to their needs. The rising tide of populism sweeping the West seems to suggest that’s true.

But a new paper published by Filip Kostelka, a Postdoctoral Fellow and Research Chair in Electoral Studies at the Département de science politique of the Université de Montréal, says this isn’t necessarily the case. As part of his post-doc research, Kostelka performed an exhaustive study of the legislative elections in all 91 young-democracies — countries that took up democracy between 1939 and 2015. Half of these, he reports, have seen a sharp decline in voter turnout — but the reasons people missed the voting booth were different in each case, and are tied to how democracy first took root in each country.

Kostelka’s study is the most comprehensive analysis of voter dynamics in the 20th century, and as such offered a unique glimpse into how it happens in different countries. He found that when democracy was installed following the efforts of a strong opposition against dictatorial rule, voting turnout in the founding elections was massive. This sets an unrealistic benchmark, which subsequent turnouts can’t achieve as political furor simmers down — so inevitably, such countries will see a decline in turnouts over time. By contrast, countries that made the switch under the supervision of the previous authoritarian regime didn’t see this spike in voter turnout during their first elections. Turnout figures weren’t significantly different from those in established democracies, where rates have been mildly declining since the 1970s, Kostelka reports.

Spain and Portugal, for example, both moved away from a dictatorship in the 70s but show some important differences today. Turnout in Spain has decreased by roughly 3%, while in Portugal it’s dropped by about 20%. The difference between the two is that Spain’s democratization was tightly controlled by the regime, whereas Portugal made the transition through strong democratic opposition to the government.

Going down but not going under

These findings are good news if you’re a fan of democracy (which you should be) since it means people aren’t skipping vote day because they’re fed up with democracies.

“We should be very careful when we interpret declines in voter turnout; it doesn’t necessarily mean that people are dissatisfied,” said Kostelka.

“When voters cease to participate, it’s not because they are getting disenchanted with the ideal of democracy as a form of government. That’s something you hear a lot from commentators and pundits, but it’s a misconception; they’re really mistaken.”

His work also revealed that in countries such as the above-mentioned Romania, where the president is directly elected in a separate election, turnout is lower for legislative elections. In other places, such as Hungary or Serbia, where one party is much stronger than the opposition, turnout is also low. Places such as Belgium or Australia, where voting is compulsory and enforced, naturally see higher turnout rates.

Post-communist countries, however, stick out from the background. Kostelka’s analysis shows that these countries have some residual voter decline that can’t be accounted either by the democratization context we’ve outlined earlier, or the global trend towards lower turnouts. He believes it comes down to emigration. Many citizens who are eligible to vote in these countries have moved to Western countries in hopes of brighter futures. They thus don’t participate in elections back home and have a noticeable effect on turnout, since ex-communist countries usually have automatic voter registration systems in place.

Overall, turnout rates “appear to be almost entirely a function of what happens before and during regime change, not what happens afterward,” Kostelka concludes.

“It is true that since the 1970s, voter turnout declines have become more frequent. Nevertheless, this is a tendency that new democracies share with established democracies.”

The paper “Does Democratic Consolidation Lead to a Decline in Voter Turnout? Global Evidence Since 1939” has been published in the journal American Political Science Review.

76 recipients of the Nobel Prize endorse Obama

This year’s election is among the most significant in America’s history. The people need a visionary leader that could get the nation out of the way towards the dark ages, and that can make this country play its crucial role in the world.

Under the Bush administration, scientific issues have been politicized in such a way that vital parts of scientific and technologic administration have been harmed, or even worse. According to the Nobel scientists, McCain will just continue Bush’s obvious lack of regard from science. So 76 Nobel Prize winners wrote an open letter to the people of America and not only; a part of what they wrote:

“We especially applaud his emphasis during the campaign on the power of science and technology to enhance our nation’s competitiveness. In particular, we support the measures he plans to take – through new initiatives in education and training, expanded research funding, an unbiased process for obtaining scientific advice, and an appropriate balance of basic and applied research – to meet the nation’s and the world’s most urgent needs.”

Also, here is the full letter, read by this guy; you may know him as the “inventor” of quarks.

America’s vote for science

vote obama

Science and politics often go hand in hand; they influence one another and despite the fact that the connections are subtle, they often play a crucial role. If at today’s vote was cast only by people who work or support scientific enquiries of any type, the result would be crushing.

Today’s importance goes out of the national interest, and dives into the global concerns; the challenges that America, along with the world, faces today, could found their answers in research and scientific development. These values are actually at the core of solving these problems. While both Obama and McCain have spoken about how they prize them, it’s obvious that one candidate has spoken more clearly and actually tried to find solutions to problems.

Still, having a significantly better team of advisors does not necessarily solve problems. Obama still has some campaigns which seem misguided; he seems to understand this, and goes for a wide range of solutions, hearing opinions and analyzing what seems to be the best answer. Still, despite McCain’s narrower explanations, some will find his solutions to be trustworthy above that of his oponent’s. It is a call everybody who has the right to vote (and not only) has to make for themselves.

ZME Science (including everybody in our team) can not cast a single vote in today’s elections, and we’re not trying to influence anybody. If we could, we would choose a candidate that’s open for solutions and who seeks opinions from those who know more than him. If we could, we would cast our vote for Barack Obama.