How Personality Explains Lawmaker Behavior

Adam Ramey: “Using every floor speech by every member of the U.S. Congress since 1996, we use some recent methods in computer science to generate the first estimates of legislator personality over time. For each member, we estimate their positions on the Big Five personality dimensions – Openness to new experiences, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (or OCEAN, for short). We find that each of these dimensions helps us to explain lots of different behaviors that legislators engage in, even after accounting for ideology.”

“Intriguingly, it turns out that personality traits help us to tell a nuanced story of what is going on in Washington. Specifically, it’s not just liberals behaving differently than conservatives. Rather, most of the dysfunction we observe in Congress today is a product of both ideology and changing personality demographics.”

“Our findings show that personality dimensions explain the kinds of bills legislators propose, how often they buck the party line, how they use press releases and Twitter to disseminate information, and more. All together, this leads to a simple but profound conclusion: personality is more than a feeling. It’s a driving force behind partisan, polarizing tactics and it’s reshaping how Washington works.”

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