I love when science and politics intertwine. See, I’m a scientist first, and a political analyst second. So much of politics is based in the realms of opinion and propaganda that it makes my scientific disposition go haywire with frustration.
Now, my preference tends to be the opposite of my opponents. People like Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, every “intelligent design” supporter on the planet, Senate Majority Leader and medical doctor Bill Frist and countless other prominent conservatives much prefer to shout propaganda, pseudo-rhetoric and outright lies before even looking at anything that could be considered a fact.
I guess that’s why Al Franken’s books remain on the bestseller lists years after their publications, while O’Reilly’s and Coulter’s books were on the two for three dollars table when I was walking through Barnes and Noble last week.
So the last time I wrote about science and politics intertwining, it was regarding a recent social psychology study that showed a significant correlation between racial prejudice and political affiliation. This study, coming form some of the top schools in the country, showed that people with conservative political leanings tended to have stronger anti-black prejudices, either latent or manifest.
Big surprise, eh?
Over the holiday I read a new study that came with no real surprising results. Remember that girl in preschool who always ran to the teacher with complaints about the other kids? Or the boy who always got everything he wanted from mom and dad, and cried when things didn’t go his way?
Well, according to a new study from the University of California’s psychology department, there’s a good chance that those same children likely grew up to be political conservatives.
Likewise, the kid who was always solving problems for himself, leading games and groups of friends and was generally more self-reliant probably grew up to be a political liberal.
Dr. Jack Block recently published an article in The Journal of Research in Personality with these results, showing that the more insecure a person is as a child, the more likely he is to become a conservative as an adult. Similarly, the study found that the more confident and independent a child is, the more likely he is to become a liberal as an adult.
Block says in the article that “Preschool children who 20 years later were relatively liberal were characterized as: developing close relationships, self-reliant, energetic, somewhat dominating, relatively under-controlled and resilient. Preschool children subsequently relatively conservative at age 23 were described [by their teachers] as: feeling easily victimized, easily offended, indecisive, fearful, rigid, inhibited and relatively over-controlled and vulnerable.”
So much for the “whiny liberal” stereotype.
The study was conducted over a twenty year period in which Block tracked over a hundred California children from preschool age into their midtwenties, measuring their development, emotional and mental health and a myriad of other variables.
Now I know what the conservatives out there are going to say. There’s gotta be some bias in the research, or this is just more evidence of the liberal tendency of the academic community. Well, let’s go ahead and put these easily victimized, fearful and easily offended reactions to rest.
There’s virtually no chance for bias in the study because the article is based out of data that had already been collected before the researcher began looking at political affiliation. In other words, unless the children were manifesting tendencies toward a particular political alignment at the ages of three and four, then it’d be really hard for evidence of political preference to arise in the data.
Okay, so there goes the problem with the research. But perhaps it’s the researcher who had the bias. Maybe Dr. Block has an agenda and is willing to skew his findings to meet a political end. Maybe he’s just like all those other professors who perpetuate the liberal conspiracy in American universities.
Well even if that claim wasn’t ridiculous to begin with, I’m pretty sure that one cannot become a professor emeritus at the top psychology department in the country by publishing biased data, nor win grants from the National Science Foundation to run a longitudinal study for over twenty years by having an ulterior motive in his research. People are stingy with their grant money and don’t want to put millions of dollars into research that can be discredited for bias.
Now, I won’t begin to say that these personality types in children direct political preference, and neither does Dr. Block. It’s merely a correlation, not causation. There are countless influences that can affect political alliance: family, friendships, religious preference, personal experiences and so on.
And we also have to keep this idea in perspective. A hundred kids in southern California are hardly representative of the entire country. And it’s unlikely that every fearful, whiney brat becomes a conservative (Theresa Kerry) and that every strong-willed, independent thinker becomes a liberal (John McCain, and I salute you, sir)
But I just can’t help but find it funny that the kids who cried when somebody called him a name grew up to be David Horowitz and Stacey Campfield. I guess now we know what the conservative right in the country is really overcompensating for.

— Jon Fish is a senior in sociology. He can be reached at jfish@utk.edu or through his Web site at http://web.utk.edu/~jfish/.