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These seem like the kinds of prejudices I might have held when I was younger - but I don't think they're applicable.

At the very base of the argument is an assumption that your social personality, political views and landscaping abilities are all congruent. But I think this is way off the mark.

Sometimes, the particular opinions and personalities of people I meet really surprise me when they seem to clash with my own conception of what their political tendencies are. The problem is that the data people use to inform their political attitudes is not really parallel with their "political personality." I am quite leaning to the left, but when I've only had access to a few, rightist news outlets, I am likely to end up thinking very inconsistently with my "normal" interpretation of events.

I think there's a strong case to be made that personality correlates with political affinity. That having been said I'm not sure that you are fully accounting for certain political subgroups such as Libertarian conservatives who might have very different personality traits than social conservatives. Likewise Green voters may be attempting to signal their love of the environment, but by the same token they may be signaling their disapproval of the other political parties. Factories like these would complicate the picture because while it is clear that people who put up lawn signs are signalling something, it isn't always clear what that signal is supposed to be.

More generally, though, this makes me think of a study published a few years ago in the Journal of Research Into Personality by Prof. Jeanne Block and Prof. Jack Block at UC Burkley. In the 1960s they started tracking 100 nursery school kids to observe how personalities develop over time. Children's personalities were rated by teachers who had worked alongside them for months. A few decades later Block followed up with some new surveys for the group, who by this time had entered young adulthood. The children who had been described as insecure or whiners by their teachers had grown up to self identify as politically conservative and evidenced a dislike of ambiguity and a preference for traditional gender roles. The more outgoing and confident children were more politically liberal and had wider ranging interests and a relative openness to new experiences. (Note that the study was conducted in Berkley so your mileage may vary from region to region).

Reminds me of a cartoon I saw decades ago in England. A man is talking to a woman at the front door of her rather upscale house. On the front lawn a sign says "Vote Conservative". And the caption reads: "Actually we vote Labour, but we didn't want to lower the tone of the neighbourhood".

I can't remember ever seeing any election signs in my neighbourhood. My guess is there's an unwritten and maybe even unspoken ceasefire agreement. Especially given it's a mixed Franco/Anglo neighbourhood. Or maybe nobody bothers with us, because we're a cul de sac.

Personality correlation data is problematic mostly because situational correlations are so strong - almost always stronger than personality trait/behaviour correlations. Take extraversion. It may be that extraverts talk more than introverts at both parties and funeral services, but everyone talks way less at a funeral service than at a party. So without strong situational controls it is difficult to make reliable predictions about a person's traits from external indicators - although it is very human to think that we can (the fundamental attribution error). Also, the personality traits interact with other things, such as physiological and emotional needs etc. which increases the complexity of identifying them. For example, if I think that something indicates that I have a particular personality trait, and I want to be seen as having that trait, even if I don't have it, then I may do the behaviour for that reason.

Actually, I was having fun with the language here, in particular the use of 'conscientious'. Not the way I'd ordinarily use it - the piece seemed more sensible to me if I substituted 'uptight' or 'anally retentive', which probably signals for you what sign I'd put up if I had one.

To the point though, I think what's implied in the gardening examples is the more conformist and traditional corresponding with conservative political values. I think that's generally going to be true. Even to the left though, where there's a fair bit of group-think usually happening, you'll probably also find conformity, but of a less traditional sort. The ones who are truly individualistic or just don't give a damn are probably the ones least likely to have a sign at all.

Nick H: "That having been said I'm not sure that you are fully accounting for certain political subgroups such as Libertarian conservatives who might have very different personality traits than social conservatives".

Absolutely. And if one party pursues a strategy of appealing to voters who are simultaneously conscientious and not open (with, say, a law and order agenda), that creates space for a party who appeals to conscientious/open voters (a fiscally responsible marijuana legalization policy, for example).

Nick Rowe - I like that!

Alice, a thoughtful analysis, clearly signalling your general intelligence ;-)

Jim - I wonder, do the truly individualistic or people who don't give a damn vote?

For what it's worth, I've voted Green federally and provincially in every election since 2003 and my lawn/yard is an absolute disaster. Not sure what that says.

I've never seen much correlation between personality and politics. Being a Northern California who doesn't go to church, I've basically never known an conservatives/Republicans, so I can't really say anything about them. I do know that the liberals I've known (as opposed to the apathetic people) have been all over the place in personality. My parents typify that (lack of a) pattern. My dad is totally conscientious/anal, socially inept, and non-creative. My mom is completely the opposite. Sharing a lawn/yard/garden/home was a source of constant conflict for them. Yet, they're both extremely socially, fiscally, and culturally liberal. Beyond giving me a profoundly depressing sense of what marriage looks like, seeing them interact has taught me that liberals are not a homogeneous population.

On top of that, I have long been deeply anxious and afraid of new situations to a neurotic degree, but I have always identified with the Left.

Perhaps I should just move to Texas and start a new life. At least the conservatives have Jesus to keep them together, right?

Perhaps the Left/Right spectrum isn't the most relevant political or philosophical distinction in all of this...

"For what it's worth, I've voted Green federally and provincially in every election since 2003 and my lawn/yard is an absolute disaster. Not sure what that says."

It means you're on a list.

What does "still covered in snow" mean?

While major difference (Conservative v. Everyone Else) are probably reflected in peoples' design purchasing choices, the smaller differences and great overlap on the left of the spectrum probably won't be as obvious. Your NDP-bicycle linkage could just as easily be a Green-bicycle link. I ride a bike, and ideologically mostly identify with the Liberals. (But will vote for whoever I think will come closest to ousting Laurie Hawn.)

Mike: "For what it's worth, I've voted Green federally and provincially in every election since 2003 and my lawn/yard is an absolute disaster. Not sure what that says."

I can see one of the other parties sneaking out one night to put a Green sign on Mike's lawn. "Vote Green, and the whole country can look like this!" ;-)

Blikktheterrible -"liberals are not a homogeneous population." Agreed. Countries with proportional representation tend to have lots of small parties, that they join together to form explicit coalitions and form governments. Countries like Canada and the US tend to have a smaller number of large parties, and coalitions get formed within the parties.

That's why statements like "American democrats and British Labour voters tend to be more agreeable and more open" are gross generalizations - there are tens of millions of American democrats, and I'm sure many of them are highly disagreeable and not particularly open at all. The American democratic and republican parties, like the Canadian conservative and liberal parties, are big tents welcoming all sorts of voters. (But I still do think that, to the extent there are differences between party policies, they may appeal to different types of voters).

Neil - "still covered in snow" - wish I knew what that meant, I still have snow in my backyard also. As for bicycles - it's not just the bicycle, it's where/how it's stored. Ottawa gardens are mostly sepia-tinted at the moment, making it hard to test any theories about gardening/lawn sign correlations.

Mike, is it a lawn, or is it a meadow?

Perhaps I should just move to Texas and start a new life. At least the conservatives have Jesus to keep them together, right?

[Tongue slightly in cheek] Now see here, there IS such a thing as the Christian Left. :) For examples see United Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada (on a good day for the Anglicans, er, Episcopalians in American parlance).

The United Church has long been known as the NDP-at-Prayer, though I've never voted NDP. Jack Layton however is a Member of Bloor Street United Church in Toronto.

In Canada the Christian Left is a lot more pronounced than in the US, due to the quite different church landscape we have here. Plus we don't really have much of a Christian Right as such and they've never amounted to anything in elections. Perhaps Bible Bill Aberhart and Ernest Manning would be the best examples, but that was the 1930's.

Um there are two people in most of the houses. Who designs the garden?

Maybe it's the crowd I work with, but the control of the garden seems to be split 50-50 men/women here, maybe even a bit weighted towards men. And I mean garden, not just lawn, as the stereotype would have you believe.

Also, as a general rule, generalizations such as the one in the original post never seem to take into account the standard deviation in the mean. There may be "average" Liberal or Green voters, but I bet the variance in whatever metric is used for those personality traits is large too, within a group.

reason -"Who designs the garden?" And who chooses the lawn sign? Lack of congruence between lawn sign and garden could simply reflect the fact that the chief gardener does not decide upon the family's lawn sign.

Determinant: "we don't really have much of a Christian Right" - take a really close listen to some recent Conservative advertisements. Listen for words that mean a lot to Christians, e.g. faith, faithful, grace, charity. This is what happens - words are used that just sound like ordinary words to someone ignorant of the Christian faith, but which resonate with Christian listeners. I'd be interested in what you hear, as you probably have a good ear for this.

"Who chooses the lawn sign?"
Before my grandfather had to move into a care facility, every election he would go out and get a PC/Reform/CA/CPC sign. My grandmother would then sigh the sigh that comes from decades of living together, and go out and fetch a Liberal sign for the other side of the driveway.

From Orwell. I don't remember the exact text from the exact essay but it goes like this: " I saw a man get on the bus, His round face, pale white legs under his short pants, his rosy toes peeking froom his sandals, his vegetarian lunch,all about him screamed "Socialist!"

No religious Right in Canada?
Read that article from Le Devoir

January 2011 : on a plane to ( or from ) Taïwan, a liberal MP on a parliamentary visit suddenly has an anaphylactic shock. As she gasp for air 3 PC MPs block an on board medical personnel so they can administer a layering on of hands... Finally the doctor brushed them aside and saved her. She is still so afraid she doesn't want her name used...The crazy for Gods are in control. If i knew that Harper was merely using them but I am not sure of his real proclivities.
It is the second election in a row where my female students tell me things like " I wouldn't get alone in his car." Some comments are not printable Maybe " He has the eyes of a shark" but some others could be actionnable ( available in private email...)

I honestly haven't been watching the ads, as I don't watch much TV anymore. I also live in a rural Central Ontario riding and we aren't a battleground. There is one election sign here.

I don't watch the news much either, as I'm trying to get a job in Ottawa and the scene shots on political shows just make me pine for the place. I stick to the Globe and Mail.

I probably could detect something, but such platitudes can cut either way. Furthermore, in Canada federal parties have always been very careful in how the appeal to religion. Quebec is the reason for this. When people say "Christian Right" they actually mean "Protestant Christian Right". Roman Catholicism has its own vocabulary and dialectic and while there are often agreements between the two, such as on abortion, there are significant differences as well.

It's too easy to pitch an ad wrong, especially for a political worker who isn't a theologian, and have the results undo your entire work in the other language. It's just too easy with the Protestant English/Catholic French split to say something wrong. It's not worth it when you need at least some Quebec seats to form a government (based on numbers) and you need those Quebec MP's to work with your English Canadian MP's.

Normally political parties run an English campaign and a French campaign but with a hungry media and easy access to bilingual resources, spillover can and does happen.

The US doesn't face this problem like we do because their religious demographic is different and tilted more Protestant with different churches making up the Protestant slice. The largest Protestant church in the US is the Southern Baptist Convention, in Canada it's the United Church of Canada. Not the same.

Jacques - "his rosy toes peeking froom his sandals,"

Now this is really strange - I had no idea that the identification of socialism and sandals was so longstanding. This probably wouldn't translate, but left-leaning academics are often called "sandalistas." (Sandanistas. Sandalistas. It never gets old.)

Clearly there is some stable underlying personality trait that generates both sandal wearing and leftist voting ;-)

Determinant - interesting analysis

One thing that long prevented the "Christian Right" from uniting was that until recently (and still today in some parts of the West and Ontario), was the anti-catholicism ( "I renonce the Pope as the AntiChrist...anyone?)and the anti-Franco sentiment that was integral to their thinking. However conservative Québec catholics wished to join ,they couldn't and wouldn't be admitted to the club. ( A historian reported a Jewish shopkeeper in the '20's : I'd vote for the Nazis but they are so antisemitic and threaten to beat me when I show up at their rallies....").
The late 19th -early 20th canadian politics was dominated by the consequences of that.
Sifton 's policy was clearly designed to prevent the establishment of French-speaking catholics in the west

and if a few hangings were needed...


A whole settlement effort was undertaken by the Curé Labelle,


who wished to establish a pale of settlement from the north of Montréal to the Prairies over the Great Lakes,joining the Métis and bypassing the anglo-protestant southern Ontario. In retaliation, Ontario Orangemen counter attacked by going to the Pontiac region hoping to make a barricade preventing further expansion. In the end the northern settlers stopped trying to grow grain in the mountains and got rich operating ski resorts while the Pontiac anglos are now Québec least-educated and poorest population .
Who said Canada is a boring country?

Jacques Rene - in England I have a feeling that anti-Catholicism is fading, with high profile conversions of people such as Tony Blair, whole parishes switching from Anglicism to Catholicism to protest policies such as same sex marriage and female ordination, etc.

Do you think there is a similar breaking down of the Protestant/Catholic divide in Canada?

Lawns are such a passé 19th century status symbol.

One of these days, owning and maintaining a private 'lawn' may acquire the same symbolism as smoking tobacco in public.

"Hi. My socio-economics status is modest. What's your name?"

Anti-catholicism is essentially dead in Canada as in England but the consequences are path-dependant. After Riel's hanging the French and Catholics adopted the Liberal business plan. ( be everything to everyone, still showing in the CBC Electoral compass were every confused answer lead you to the LPC). Until Trudeau wrecked the whole thing with the approval of the Toronto elite. Mulroney tried to forge a new coalition but in the end, the Reform couldn't stand the French and Trudeau did his best to scuttle Meech Lake and definitely bury the Libs in Québec. In my riding (Manicouagan), nobody vetted the candidate because there is no Lib organisation left. And the Tory candidate lives in Québec City. 700 kms away.
Now you're stuck with Harper. Even though Duceppe would accept a coalition in a blink with the approval of most Franco Québec voters, including myself ( a PQ riding president...)

In addition to the anecdote relayed by Jacques (Jacques-René? en tout cas merci) from the Devoir article, it's worth signalling that the journalist also reminds readers that a Conservative candidate used to be an Opus Dei spokesperson, that others are on the record having said or done very strange things based on their religious beliefs (e.g. a Minister of Science who won't endorse the theory of evolution). Ms Buzzetti has done very interesting work in the last few years on the links between Harper and the Christian ultra-right; other articles are probably available on Le Devoir website (for those who read French).

Thank you Frances for another interesting post. I'm glad that my lawn (rather, front yard, since my goal is to be lawn-less) will soon proclaim to the world that I am agreeable, open and creative.


What does Miller say about different attitudes to ethnic cleansing, affirmative action tribal cleansing, state-subsidized demographic flooding, and similar.?

Can you tell the difference between somebody who supports violent taking, and somebody who, for whatever policy or aesthetic, opposes violent taking? By how they dress, behave, decorate the house, etc.?

I can never tell. I never know in advance who has a taste for killing others and taking their resources.

Does openness really make people more likely to be liberal? My own life experience has involved living mostly in very liberal places and working with liberal people. Were I to embrace liberalism, wouldn't that be an embrace of the conventional for me? Alternately, when it comes to lawns and their usefulness as a signal of personality - doesn't that also depend upon the rest of the neighbourhood. Shouldn't we distinguish between somebody that grows a wild-but-beautiful garden because they are a free spirit, and one that does so because they are trying to fit in with the aesthetic of the neighbourhood?

I would like to clarify my Texas/Jesus comment.

First of all, it was a joke.

Second of all, my point was not that there is no place Christian Left in the US (or Canada). My point was that there is no non-Christian Right in the US. That's why the Right has Jesus to hold them together. Of course, I'm being (slightly) hyperbolic.

hosertohoosier: "does openness really make people more likely to be liberal?" Remember, openness isn't necessarily a good thing - for our ancestors, being too open might have meant coming into contact with someone who would give you a nasty disease, or eating poisonous berries. But there is some other research that suggests there are differences in the brains of conservatives and liberals.

"Alternately, when it comes to lawns and their usefulness as a signal of personality - doesn't that also depend upon the rest of the neighbourhood. " - Alice makes a similar point earlier in the comments, that our behaviour depends upon context.


I know, I just get fed up with people tarring Christianity with the Right Wing brush. The Christian Left has a long and honourable tradition, there are still churches that represent the position and I wish people would take more notice of the fact.

Besides, in all fairness to you, since this is a Canadian blog I feel honour-bound to mention that in some significant ways Canada and the United States are NOT the same, nor even near-equivalent. Religion is one of those ways.

Actually our religious demographic most closely resembles Australia.

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