Conservative or Liberal? One Question to Rule them All

I’m devastated that Christian Rudder hasn’t posted to the OKTrends blog for more than a year.* He did statistical analysis of the monstrous database of OK Cupid — a dating site that asks participants hundreds of often odd and quirky questions about themselves — to draw out conclusions about various, sundry, and often fascinating topics.

I also can’t believe that I never posted about a finding in one of his posts that really caught my eye — from The Best Questions for a First Date:

If you want to know…

Do my date and I have the same politics?

Ask him or her…

Do you prefer the people in your life to be simple or complex?


We were very surprised to find that this one question very strongly predicts a person’s ideas on these divisive issues:

Should burning your country’s flag be illegal?

Should the death penalty be abolished?

Should gay marriage be legal?

Should Evolution and Creationism be taught side-by-side in schools?

In each case, complexity-preferrers are 65-70% likely to give the Liberal answer. And those who prefer simplicity in others are 65-70% likely to give the Conservative one.

This correlation is for a nationwide dataset; it won’t be as useful in places where one ideology is much more prevalent than the other. For example, in New York City there are lots of people who like simplicity and yet have Liberal politics.

This jives perfectly with my own anecdotal observations: that conservatives tend to like simple answers to everything: “Just cut taxes!” or “It all boils down to X.” (Scott Sumner deserves unlimited praise for acknowledging and battling that predilection in this link. That admission — along with the Rudder’s finding here — might also go a long way towards explaining why Steve Randy Waldmann thinks that professedly right-ish Market Monetarists have more in common with generally lefty MMTers and Post-Keynesians than they or others might suspect, or than any of those groups have in common with simplistically delusional freshwater neoclassicals.)

And I would also add: people aren’t simple. Ever. Especially when there’s more than one of them. (Can you name a single family that you know well that doesn’t have all sorts of odd and complicated stuff going on?) So this portrays conservatives wishing for things that don’t exist — like, for instance, prosperous, modern, high-productivity countries that don’t have massive doses of redistribution.

I’ll leave you with that. But I can’t resist sharing another beauty from the same post:

Okay, if you want to know…

Will my date have sex on the first date?


Do you like the taste of beer?


Among all our casual topics, whether someone likes the taste of beer is the single best predictor of if he or she has sex on the first date.

This caused me some difficulty recently. I was out with a friend and his girlfriend. She took a big swallow from her glass, put it down firmly, and announced, “Damn I love the taste of beer.” I almost spewed mine across the room.

Finally, for those who’ve read this far: if you’re thinking that the title of this post is ironic…you’re right.

* Ah. He sold his shop to just over a year go — for $50 mil. Just six days ago a “rumored seven-figure” deal was announced for the book on big data that he’s writing/has written, titled Dataclysm. I’ll be buying it.

Cross-posted at Asymptosis.