Democrats are more analytical than Republicans — barely

Red and blue pieces on a chess board.
(Illustration by Michael S. Helfenbein)

A survey of 15,000 online workers has confirmed the hypothesis that Republicans and Trump voters are less analytical than Democrats and Hillary Clinton voters.

Well, sort of.

While results of the Yale research do show Clinton voters scored slightly higher than Trump voters (6%) on tests designed to measure cognitive reflection or analytical thinking, much of the difference disappeared if Democrats who voted for Trump, the least analytical subgroup, were eliminated from the equation. Intriguingly, said the researchers, political moderates and non-voters tended to be the least reflective, and libertarians the most reflective.

The results show this is a lot more complicated than people made it seem,’’ said Gordon Pennycook, co-author of the study which appears in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. “And education levels did not seem explain these differences.”

Yale psychologists Pennycook and David Rand used the data to test a contentious theory that conservatives and Republicans tend to think more intuitively, or go with their gut instincts, while liberals and Democrats tend to be more willing to reflectively analyze issues. Subjects of different political ideologies, party affiliations, and 2016 presidential votes were given two tests designed to measure cognitive reflection, or the tendency to think analytically.

A sample question: A bat and ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs a $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? (Instinct says 10 cents, but that is wrong. That would make the cost of the bat $1.10 and the total cost $1.20. The actual price of the ball would be 5 cents, and the cost of the bat would be $1.05.)

The overall differences between Democrats and Republicans was small (4%), but when broken down by party affiliation, political ideology, or 2016 Presidential vote, larger differences emerged. In particular, Democrats who voted for Trump were two to three times more likely than the other groups to answer all reflective thinking questions incorrectly.

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Media Contact

Bill Hathaway: william.hathaway@yale.edu, 203-432-1322