Liberals more politically picky in mates?

By Razib Khan | July 31, 2011 9:08 pm

In the early 2000s I recall Joel Grus telling me how reality television would become a pretty powerful exploratory tool for social science. I’m not quite sure of that now (there here’s a game-theoretic analysis of Survivor!). For example, consider The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. If you watched this series you might think that we’re still living in the same country where a episode of Star Trek was not shown in the South because of an interracial kiss. In some ways “appointment television” has become a lagging indicator.

Rather, it looks like firms whose bread & butter is “the social web” are where the gold in social science is. Consider the OkTrends blog, which is affiliated with and has access to OkCupid. These companies have sample sizes not in the thousands, but in the millions! The Financial Times has a fascinating piece on the “secret sauce” of, Inside It’s all about the algorithm:

With the number of paying subscribers using Match approaching 1.8 million, the ­company has had to develop ever more ­sophisticated programs to manage, sort and pair the world’s singles. Central to this effort has been the development, over the past two years, of an improved matchmaking algorithm….

“People are complex. You’re constantly making trade-offs about who’s too tall, too short, too smart and too dumb. People come in and tell us a bit about what they’re looking for. But what you say and what you do can be different.”

Academics call this “dissonance”. “It’s a theme that runs through social psychological literature,” says Andrew Fiore, a visiting assistant professor at Michigan State University, who works on ­computer-mediated communication. “We don’t know ourselves very well on a descriptive level.”

This is all great, but it falls into the category of generic platitudes about avowed and revealed preferences. Most people believe in fidelity, but a subset of these people cheat. The juicy stuff is in the specific patterns is finding:

As a result, Match began “weighting” variables differently, according to how users behaved. For example, if conservative users were actually looking at profiles of liberals, the algorithm would learn from that and recommend more liberal users to them. Indeed, says Thombre, “the politics one is quite interesting. Conservatives are far more open to reaching out to someone with a different point of view than a liberal is.” That is, when it comes to looking for love, conservatives are more open-minded than liberals.

This is intuitively surprising, but more scienced up it is rather strange because one of the psychological underpinnings for why someone is more likely to be liberal than conservative is “openness to experience.” But there’s openness, and then there’s openness. I suppose one could suggest that the aversion to political conservatives amongst liberals in’s data set might have to do with the fact that liberals feel like they know what they’re getting when they date a political conservative, and it doesn’t tingle their novelty seeking tendencies.

That being said, my personal experience growing up as an adolescent in a overwhelmingly politically conservative milieu (the Intermontane West) and spending most of my adulthood in very liberal cities (e.g., Portland, Oregon, Berkeley, California) is that the stereotyping and intolerance I’ve experienced as a libertarian-conservative atheist had more to due with my irreligiosity in the former context and my politics in the latter. One might suggest then that the appropriate analog for the Christian nationalist religious identity of many conservatives amongst secular liberals is the set of political positions which they espouse. Both signal virtue and righteousness, even if the details differ.

Though one should be careful of taking one glimpse into’s data set too seriously. Context matters, and I don’t know if there’s selection bias here (one suspects that eHarmony has a more conservative clientele, so right-wingers using might be more adventuresome by nature). Unfortunately I doubt that those outside of these firms will have much access all their delicious information, but people leave companies. I recall a friend telling me that he overheard some Facebook employees batting around how to predict when you were about to unfriend someone a few years back.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Data Analysis
MORE ABOUT: Culture, Data, dating

Comments (17)

  1. Clark

    I thought and eCupid were for hookups and eHarmony for finding an actual person you’d consider marrying. That might bias things entirely. After all conservatives looking for a hookup might not care if someone is liberal. Why liberals wouldn’t be so accommodating is an interesting question.

    (For the record I’ve not used any of these)

  2. (For the record I’ve not used any of these)

    sure clark, sure…. (me thinks the latter day saint doth protest too much)

  3. ST

    I’d be interested in seeing whether “moderates” actually leaned in favor of other moderates or either end of the political spectrum on this standard.

  4. Along with openness, how much of this effect is capturing preferences relating to intelligence (as proxied by information on the site such as occupation etc)?

  5. i’m going to ban anyone who violates godwin’s law (and yes, you can call me fascist, but that’ll get u banned too :-).

    #4, tell me if you can get the data out of 🙂 it does sound like a suspicious sexy result….

  6. OKCupid is where intelligence selection has become more pronounced, thanks to the site’s unusual match question system. Rather than a standard questionnaire, OKC users have a pool of over five thousand questions to choose from and can submit new questions if they don’t find ones that are useful.
    When the site first started, the user submitted questions would be specific to small interest groups- “do you enjoy or could you tolerate (named unusual activity)?”- but as the site has grown there has been a shift towards questions which select for IQ, either obliquely by looking for IQ linked personality traits (eg in attitudes to religion) or more directly. I have seen several profiles with “name the next number in the sequence” questions marked ‘mandatory’.

  7. “i’m going to ban anyone who violates godwin’s law (and yes, you can call me fascist, but that’ll get u banned too 🙂 “.

    Fascist! Only fascists appeal to that idiocy. They fear the ugly face in the mirror.

  8. Darkseid

    Perhaps cons are looking for some action and fellow conservatives aren’t likely to oblige them in that area. “waiting until marriage” is not a big seller for an online profile.

  9. Miguel Madeira

    Probably left-wingers give more importance to politics than right-wingers (at least in Europe left-wingers vote more, make more demonstrations, etc., than righ-wingers), then they want as mate that can go with them to the demonstrations or to the party reunions or work with them with their radical fanzine.

  10. mdb

    As someone that did use these, I would have to say, the conservatives that use these services are a lot less likely to be religious conservatives and more likely to be economic conservatives. If you could get your hands on the religious and political views data, I think that could shed some light on the matter.

  11. magetoo

    You should shoot the OkCupid team an email, it would be interesting to see what you could tease out of the data if they were to let you at it. Or at least it seems like they might be open to suggestions about what to look for.

  12. the conservatives that use these services are a lot less likely to be religious conservatives and more likely to be economic conservatives.

    That has been my experience as well, but then again, I was using the apparently “hipster” OkCupid.

  13. reihan salam also points out (on twitter) that men are less discriminate in race, so they might be the same when it comes to politics, and males tend to be more politically conservative than females. correlation is not always transitive, but it can be.

  14. Difference Maker

    We may conceive of the matter this way: Conservatives accept human nature; liberals are determined to be moral and “clean”. Priggishness – a Teutonic vice

  15. Conservatives accept human nature; liberals are determined to be moral and “clean”. Priggishness – a Teutonic vice

    this is why conservatives oppose abstinence only programs and liberals support them? i think your conception is glib and superficial. explaining part of the specific answer with general frameworks, but predicting in the other direction on other specific issues, suggests that there isn’t much juice in the framework. (in fact, david haidt finds that conservatives tend to be ‘moralizers,’ though i have no idea about the underlying primary research there either….)

  16. Salamander

    I’d be curious if there was a difference in political pickiness by gender.

    My immediate thought was “Well, of course!” Because men tend to be more conservative than women, but are far less likely to make political views a dealbreaker. I mean, I know plenty of female liberals who would NEVER even consider a date with a Republican or libertarian; but I can’t think of many men who would turn down a date with an otherwise attractive woman because they didn’t agree politically.

    For the woman, it is often a case of “He’s a conservative, and thus obviously wants me to be oppressed and perpetually pregnant whilst he gleefully withholds cash and food from poor people,” whereas for the men it seems to be more of “Well, she’s got some wacky ideas, but she’s really hot.” Probably something to do with the female propensity for emotionalizing things, and the male ability to detach and compartmentalize.

    I’d also be interested to see if there was a difference on eHarmony, where the participants are much more interested in marriage. I would guess that eHarmony users are not only more conservative, but would also be inclined to be somewhat pickier in their matches as they are presumably looking for a permanent, marriageable partner. That is a scenario in which I could see men being more concerned with their potential mate’s political/religious/cultural views.

    Regarding conservatives or liberals being more “moralizing,” in my experience they are probably about equal but about different things. I’m always amused by my liberal friends insisting that 16-year-olds should be treated as completely competent adults in all matters pertaining to sexuality, contraception, abortion, etc.,; but that we need to get the junk-food vending machines out of the high schools because won’t someone PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?

  17. ackbark

    Conservatives looking for liberals on dating sites may involve a stereotype among them that liberals are into immediate gratification and sexually ‘experimental’, up for a one-night stand or a quickie over lunch, where the opposite is really closer to the truth. (as per immediate gratification, at least).

    Also perhaps the people using these sites aren’t getting much out of their current scene and the reason for that may be that the liberals are actually conservatives without knowing it and the conservatives are actually liberals without knowing it.

    #16 because at that age they are still learning how to get along with other people and treating them as responsible people inspires confidence and responsibility, while junk food in schools is taking the place of something that is not junk food and what kind of thing is that teaching us?


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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