Hot-Button Political Issues: Personality Predictors In A College Student Sample
Although young voters are notorious for not formally taking part in the political process, they nonetheless typically voice strong opinions on a number of societal issues. How do individual personality traits relate to these opinions? Can an individual’s attitudes and opinions be predicted based on personality testing? The aim of the present study was to investigate the role that individual personality traits play in college students’ attitudes and opinions about certain “hot-button social issues.” The study participants were 114 undergraduate college students at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas (41 males; 72 females; one gender unspecified). The participants were first administered two widely utilized, standardized psychological tests: the NEO Big-Five personality inventory (NEO Big-Five) and the Right Wing Authoritarianism scale (RWA) for the purpose of measuring their respective personality traits. Next, the participants were administered a questionnaire (5-point Likert format) which measured their respective attitudes/opinions towards certain popular, controversial societal issues, specifically gun control, abortion, the legalization of marijuana and the death penalty. The psychological test scores/results and expressed attitudes toward these controversial issues (from the questionnaire) were then analyzed to ascertain the correlation, if any, between the personality traits/variables manifested in the students’ NEO Big-Five and RWA results and their opinions expressed in the questionnaire. A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was utilized toward this end. The objective of this research project was to investigate how a college student’s measured personality traits can predict his or her opinions/attitudes about controversial societal issues. The findings of this study were generally not surprising. High RWA scorers self-reported/endorsed more conservative attitudes and opinions on the significant societal issues included in the study than their lower scoring counterparts (on the RWA). The NEO Big-Five Openness to Experience scores also proved to be highly indicative of an individual's attitudes and opinions on three of the four hot-button issues: abortion, gun control and marijuana legalization. Specifically, on the issue of abortion, pro-lifers scored higher than pro-choicers on RWA Aggression, Conventionalism and Submission. Pro-choicers scored higher than pro-lifers on the NEO Big-Five's Openness to Experience, Agreeableness and scored lower on Neuroticism. On the issue of marijuana legalization, those favoring legalization scored higher on Openness to Experience on the NEO Big-Five and scored lower on Aggression, Conventionalism and Submission on the RWA. On gun control, those favoring gun control scored higher on Openness on the NEO Big-Five and scored higher on Submission and lower on Aggression on the RWA. Finally, on the death penalty, supporters predictably scored significantly higher on Aggression on the RWA than their anti-death penalty counterparts. This research demonstrated that there was indeed a significant interaction between an individual college student's three RWA scales and his or her self-reported attitudes and opinions on the hot-button social issues included in our study. The same significant interaction was also found between NEO Big Five Openness to Experience and Agreeableness scores and self-reported/endorsed attitudes and opinions on these issues. While these findings were not surprising and were ostensibly intuitive, the conclusions nonetheless shore up and help explain how individual personality traits translate into and predict actual endorsed opinions and attitudes on important social issues.
Whorley, Holley (2017). Hot-Button Political Issues: Personality Predictors In A College Student Sample. Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. Available electronically from