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Politics May Trump Looks, Personality in Matters of the Heart

WEDNESDAY, May 18 (HealthDay News) -- Voter registration cards may offer more insight into who people promise to love and cherish than personality or appearance, new research suggests.

Most people marry those whose political views align with their own, according to a study from Rice University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The study, published recently in the Journal of Politics, examined the physical, personality and behavioral traits of more than 5,000 married couples in the United States. The various qualities -- including body shape, height, weight, impulsivity, religion and ideology -- were scored on a scale of zero to one, with one being a perfect match.

The researchers found that spouses appeared to instinctively select partners with similar social and political views. In fact, political attitudes were among the strongest shared traits -- even taking precedence over personality or looks. The only attribute that scored slightly higher than political views was the frequency of church attendance.

"It turns out that people place more emphasis on finding a mate who is a kindred spirit with regard to politics, religion and social activity than they do on finding someone of like physique or personality," John Alford, associate professor of political science at Rice University and the study's lead author, said in a university news release. "It suggests that, perhaps, if you're looking for a long-term romantic relationship, skip 'What's your sign?' and go straight to 'Obama or Palin?' And if you get the wrong answer, just walk away," added Alford.

The researchers noted that while this selection process, or sorting, is not the only reason for political uniformity among spouses, it is clearly the most powerful. The study also points out that this political sorting may have a significant impact on American politics, increasing political uniformity into the next generation.

"Obviously, parents are very influential in shaping the political beliefs of their children," John Hibbing, political science professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and co-author of the study, noted in the news release. "If both parents are on the left or on the right, it makes it more difficult for a child to be something different. It may be part of the reason why we see such polarization."

More information

The Brookings Institution has more information on political polarization in the United States.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Rice University, news release, May 11, 2011

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