Anyone who’s wanted to dismiss Republican politics as straightforwardly mean now has some data to back them up. A psychology paper published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences in September found that Republicans surveyed had a small but statistically significant higher level of psychopathic traits than Democrats.
Researchers from the University of Southern Mississippi surveyed 304 American adults using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk; 85 identified as Republican, 164 as Democrat, and 55 as “other.” All those surveyed also completed TriPM, a self-report measure that uses 58 questions to evaluate the three traits that, according to the “triarchic model of psychopathy” make up the disorder: boldness, meanness, and disinhibition.
Test-takers rank how much they related to various statements like “I’ve injured people to see them in pain” and “I have conned people to get money from them” on a four-point scale of true, somewhat true, somewhat false, and false. The results score test-takers on all three traits of the triarchic model.
The researchers found that the TriPM questions evaluating boldness and meanness showed that both traits were higher in Republicans and Democrats, though there was no difference between the two groups on disinhibition. The study showed that boldness, which is evaluated by such questions as “I’m a born leader” and “I have a knack for influencing people,” had a particular high correlation with conservative economic policies, like lower taxes and decreased government spending. Meanwhile, meanness, which is evaluated by such questions as, “I don’t care much if what I do hurts others,” and “I enjoy a good physical fight,” correlated with conservative social policies, such as lack of support for social welfare, universal healthcare, and equal pay for women.
The study builds on earlier work showing that conservative opinions (especially opposition to gay marriage, undocumented immigrants’ rights, and environmental protections) correlate with high scores on what psychologists term the “dark triad” of personality traits: psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. A 2014 study also found that all psychopathic traits correlate with conservatism.
There are limitations to the newly published study: It only uses one self-report measure to evaluate psychopathy, and includes more Democrats than Republicans. Of course, there are likely plenty of Republicans who hold conservative views and aren’t psychopathic in the least, and plenty of Democrats who are psychopaths. But the study does provide evidence that, overall, there are slightly more people with psychopathic traits on the right side of the political aisle.