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Why Do You Vote the Way You Do?

By Dustin Rowles | Comment Diversions | November 8, 2012 |

By Dustin Rowles | Comment Diversions | November 8, 2012 |

Given the way our country is so evenly split down the middle, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why 300 million people who grew up in the same country, surrounded by the same television shows, and exposed to the same national candidates would split so evenly. What, indeed, would shape most of our beliefs in such demographically friendly terms? I keep hearing about this majority coalition that President Obama put together to win the election, and I can’t help but think how cynical and reductive that is: We have all been divvied up according to our gender, race, sexual orientation, and region like cattle, but then again, the math doesn’t lie. People in the same demographics vote the same ways. We are statistics: Poll a random sampling of 1,000 people, and you know how the other 300 million think.

But why do we think the way we do? Many studies suggest that biology is behind the way we vote:

“An increasing number of studies suggest that biology can exert a significant influence on political beliefs and behaviors … Biological factors including genes, hormone levels and neurotransmitter systems may partly shape people’s attitudes on political issues such as welfare, immigration, same-sex marriage and war. And shrewd politicians might be able to take advantage of those biological levers through clever advertisements aimed at voters’ primal emotions.”

Some twin studies suggest that genetics may be behind our political beliefs.

Others studies suggest that it’s not just education that shapes your political beliefs, but what you choose to study, linking college majors to your politics.

Most previous studies that look at the link between education and civic behavior simplyinclude a control for the amount of education a person has. This implies “being educated” influences a person’s civic behavior, but it ignores the possibility that the content of what a person is learning might also influence behavior … But our results clearly suggest there is more to the story than simply “being educated” - so that what people study in college, or what they choose to study, is associated with their civic behaviors many years after they graduate.

Your faith, television coverage, and the way your parents raise you, obviously, can all be factors in the way you think, politically, as well. But for many of us, there must be one bigger driving force behind the way we think, right? Are we all so predictable? Do we all fit into such neat patterns?

I’m trying to get a handle on why I am liberal, but I can’t quite place my finger on it. My father was gay, but he was also an uneducated man, something of a racist, and listened to a lot of Rush Limbaugh. Judging by their Facebook posts, the rest of my nuclear and extended family would most likely align themselves with the Tea Party. It’s possible, and quite likely, that my views were shaped by Bill Clinton, the one thing about my home state that I didn’t reject growing up. I gravitated toward him hard, and he was likely the single biggest reason I chose to leave the state, attend law school, and reject the politics of my family.

Maybe that is what will happen to an entire generation of malleable people who have gravitated toward Obama: He will be the presence that steers their politics. There are worse things than a magnetic, charismatic, and intelligent man influencing the politics of millions of high-school and college students who are just now settling on a political ideology, but then again, maybe I only think that way about Obama because of the college major I chose.

So I put that question to the rest of you: Why do you believe the way you do? Can you identify the influences that led to the way you voted on Tuesday?

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.