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Voting for Love: Politics and Romantic Attraction

Who your partner votes for could make or break your relationship.

With the elections fast approaching, it is hard to not have politics on the brain. It seems like everyone is screaming and arguing about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. One casual discussion with friends, or a look on social media, is enough to see that political party affiliation and voting preference is making (and breaking) people's personal relationships too.

Nevertheless, it is unclear whether this relationship strife might just be the result of a particularly heated election, as opposed to a more stable effect of political differences. After all, voting preference is not noted among the major categories people consider when selecting a mate. Nor is politics even considered part of attractive dating conversation. Therefore, it is uncertain whether political preference plays an important role in romantic relationships overall.

With that questions in mind, I decided to do a little digging in the literature...

Research on Politics and Mate Choice

I found a piece of the answer in The Journal of Politics, where Alford and associates (2011) evaluated political preference similarity among married couples. The team analyzed an existing data set of thousands of spouse pairs, evaluating the degree of agreement between partners on a number of preferences and traits. Their results indicated that the political attitudes showed some of the strongest similarities between spouses—more so than many other physical and psychological traits. Furthermore, those preferences and similarities appeared to exist from the beginning of the relationships. This indicated that individuals deliberately picked spouses for political compatibility at the start, rather than becoming more similar in views over time.

From there, I had to do some hunting. I finally found what I was looking for in a 2014 political science dissertation by Chelsea Phillips entitled The Role of Political Similarity in Romantic Relationships. Through a series of three experiments, Phillips' found:

  • Participants evaluated strangers more favorably when they were assumed to have the same political preference, were more attracted to them, and were more motivated to pursue relationships with them too.
  • Participants also expected that relationships with politically similar partners would have less conflict and be more satisfying than relationships with politically dissimilar partners.
  • Political similarity was a conscious choice in relationships, not a coincidence. Overall, politically similar partners were indeed more satisfied with their relationships than those with dissimilar political beliefs.

Answering my initial question quite well, Phillips concluded:

Perhaps most people most of the time would prefer to talk about anything other than politics, and maybe they do not really understand what differentiates a liberal from a conservative, but these same individuals are sorting themselves into politically like-minded couples in romantic relationships. At a gut level, Americans seem to understand that the political attitudes someone else holds do matter and they do have implications for interpersonal interactions. You may not believe that the party of the President of the United States will greatly impact your daily life, but who you are romantically involved with certainly will. Dating and marrying politically similar individuals has become the norm and for good reason: these relationships are marked by greater overall couple satisfaction. (pp.85)

Politics and Your Love Life

Given the above, if you are dating, it might help to include political preference in your criteria for picking a better relationship partner. In fact, political affiliation might even be important enough to include in your must-have list of partner traits for a satisfying relationship. Therefore, be sure to take it into consideration when you evaluate who is attractive and compatible as a romantic partner. It could be the key to your relationship bliss.

If you are already in a politically-discordant relationship, however, there are a few things to try before considering relationship secession. To start, build upon the motivations you do share and focus on the gratitude you feel for each other. Also, learn skills to diffuse and redirect arguments with your partner—especially when there is a political impasse. Take note of when and how to forgive your romantic partner too. After that, however, if the differences are still irreconcilable, then you may want to consider ending the relationship in a pleasant way—giving you both a chance to find a more compatible match.

Overall then, political preference does play an important role in mate selection and relationship satisfaction. According to the research, couples who are similarly conservative or liberal often get along much better. That does not mean that politically dissimilar partners are doomed—as relationships can be built on other similarities. Nevertheless, political attitudes do impact fundamental choices in our romantic lives, sexual and financial matters chief among them. Therefore, picking a partner who votes like you vote will help ensure you see eye-to-eye on a number of matters—and have the best chance at relationship satisfaction too.

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  • Alford, J. R., Hatemi, P. K., Hibbing, J. R., Martin, N. G., & Eaves, L. J. (2011). The politics of mate choice. The Journal of Politics, 73(02), 362-379.
  • Phillips, C. J. (2014). The role of political similarity in romantic relationships. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

© 2016 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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