Dog Ownership Predicts Voting Behavior—Cats Do Not

New data finds that pet owners have somewhat predictable voting preferences.

Posted Aug 27, 2019

Components from jill111 (CC0) and Vital Imagery
Source: Components from jill111 (CC0) and Vital Imagery

It seems that in today's chaotic social climate it is impossible to go to any gathering without the discussion eventually turning to politics. This is certainly the case in any social event in which there is a cluster of university faculty in attendance. Thus at one such occasion, a political psychologist in the group that I was talking with turned to me and said "I've heard you speak a number of times about personality differences between dog and cat owners (and people with no pets at all). Since it is well-established that personality differences can affect voting behavior I was wondering whether there is any research which indicates that pet ownership can predict how a person might vote."

I told him that that was a reasonable question, however, off the top of my head I could think of no pertinent research which could provide an answer. Unfortunately, his query stuck in my head, much like a piece of music that you hear and which you can't stop humming for a whole day. His question bothered me enough so that I began to wonder whether I could gather data which could answer the question as to whether pet ownership was related in any way to voting behavior.

I knew that I needed two components to answer this. First, I needed a record of how people vote. That is really easy to get, especially in national polling results such as from presidential elections. If we stick to the United States, such data is usually reported on a state-by-state basis. So that means that the second component which I would need would be a ranking of individual states on the basis of overall pet ownership — preferably broken down by the two most popular types of pets, namely cats and dogs.

I began rummaging around my library of scans of the scientific literature, and as luck would have it, I found exactly what I needed. It was a report that was released at the end of 2018 by the American Veterinary Medical Association, which reported the demographics of pet ownership broken down by state, and separated by cats and dogs. The report ranked the top 10 and bottom 10 states in terms of each category. The rankings were based on the percentage of households owning each particular type of pet.

It is surprising how large the differences are between the various states. For example, when it comes to total pet ownership Wyoming leads the pack with 72% of households owning some kind of pet, while Rhode Island is the least pet-friendly state, with only 45% of households living with an animal. When it comes to dog ownership, Idaho is the most canine loving state with 58% of households owning a dog compared to  New Hampshire where only 24% of families have a dog. The most cat-loving state is Vermont with 45% of the households living with a feline, while it appears that Rhode Island doesn't like cats very much since only 17% of families report that they have one.

Given the fact that I now had both of the components that I needed it was relatively easy to see if pet ownership had an influence on voting behavior. I chose to look at the four most recent US presidential elections (2016, 2012, 2008, and 2004). From a political standpoint, this gives us a reasonable amount of balance since two of the elections were won by the Republican presidential candidate and two were won by a Democrat.

There were two things that struck me about the results of my analysis. First of all was that, in fact, pet ownership does seem to be related to voter behavior (at least in presidential elections) and this relationship is quite strong. Second was the fact that despite which political party's candidate won the election, the predictability of voting behavior based upon pet ownership was remarkably consistent.

As you can see from the table below, when it comes to overall pet ownership, those states which ranked highest tend to overwhelmingly vote Republican (an average of 80% over the 4 elections). In comparison, the states with the lowest rates of pet ownership tend to heavily vote Democrat (an average of 80% over the time measured). From a statistical standpoint, these results are strongly significant.

SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd.
Source: SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this data set comes when we break down the effect of pet ownership as a predictor of voting behavior and look at the influence of dog ownership versus ownership of cats. As you can see from this table, the states with the highest percentage of families who have dogs as their pets are massively biased toward voting Republican (averaging 90%). Conversely, those states with the smallest percentage of households owning dogs, are heavily inclined to vote for the Democratic candidate (averaging 90%). Once again statistical tests show that these results are highly significant and unlikely to be the result of chance.

SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd.
Source: SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd.

Now when we turn to the effect of cat ownership we find that it has virtually zero predictive value when it comes to national voting trends. For those states where the percentage of cat ownership is highest, the average election results were 52.5% in favor of the Republican candidate over the 4 elections tabulated. This clearly does not represent a meaningful bias in voting behavior. When we look at those states where the percentage of cat ownership is lowest we get a similar indication that there is no predictive value of feline ownership, with an average of 60% voting Democratic. Neither of these results is different enough from the expected chance effect of 50% to be statistically significant.

SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd.
Source: SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd.

I must admit that I was quite surprised at the magnitude of the differences in this data set. Overall these results show that pet ownership does predict voting behavior. The strongest effects are for dog ownership, suggesting that dog owners tend to be much more likely to vote for Republican candidates while those who do not are more inclined to vote Democratic. I am hesitant to speculate on the reasons; although I am sure that personality-oriented psychologists will chalk this difference up to conservative versus liberal, or left versus right political beliefs. It is certainly the case that at least one study has shown that dog owners tend to be more socially dominant, and there is some suggestion that social dominance is related to more conservative political leanings, but there is not enough published data to give me a sense of security about such conclusions.

Suffice it to say that I can now send off to my colleague a batch of data which indicates, quite clearly, that pet ownership, at least when it comes to dog ownership, does seem to predict how individuals vote. Cat ownership predicts nothing in this realm of behavior — but of course cats themselves are not predictable either.

Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission

Statistical Note: Data were statistically analyzed on an election by election basis using a test for significant differences between independent proportions. For overall pet ownership, all four elections had significant differences with p<0.05 or better. For dog ownership, all four elections showed significant differences of p<0.001. For cat ownership, none of the four elections showed any statistical significance using a p<0.05 criteria (z=1.96).