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The Journal of Social Psychology, 1984, 122, 145-146.

(With detailed statistics given in a post-publication addendum following the original article)


University of New South Wales, Australia


How well can we predict a person's political preferences from a knowledge of his/her social and psychological characteristics? An answer to this ostensibly simple question is not easy to find. Psephologists predict vote from voting intention, psychologists know a lot about the political attitudes of their students, and political scientists do complex multiple regressions of demographic variables on vote, but studies combining demographic and attitude scale data in predicting vote among general population samples seem rare.

In the present study, a random doorstep cluster sample of 118 people living in Sydney, Australia, answered a questionnaire containing scales (reliabilities in parentheses) of political conservatism (.54), social conservatism (.68), economic conservatism (.61), moral conservatism (.77), attitude to authority (.77), dogmatism (.82), pre-Fascist attitude (.86), alienation (.75), and acceptance of aggression (.79), together with questions designed to elicit sex, age, occupation, education, and subjective social class (1). The data were gathered in 1970 during the Vietnam war. In Australia the administration and legislature are combined so the important political decision for the individual is what party he will vote for. Federal vote was scored from Right to Left in accordance with the political realities of the day, as follows: 5 = D. L. P. , 4 = Liberal/Country, 3 = Australia Party or no preference, 2 = A.L.P., 1 = Communist or other fringe Left party. All scales contained balancing against acquiescent response bias. A simple linear multiple regression yielded a multiple R of .70 for all variables combined in predicting vote. It may be worth noting that Burnham and Sprague (2), in another multiple regression study of voting, found that a simple additive model explained more variance than a multiplicative power function model.

From one point of view, the present results are very encouraging; it is very rare in psychology to explain anything near 50% of the variance in something. On the other hand, multiple predictions of other phenomena yielding Rs as high as .80 are not unknown (3). It may therefore be of interest to report that the major predictors on the present occasion were Occupational status, subjective social class, Political (foreign policy) conservatism, Economic conservatism, attitude to authority, acceptance of aggression, and alienation (4). Substantial improvement in the degree of prediction recorded above may depend on our being able to transcend the dichotomy between what are really two psychologies: the experimental and the correlational. This difference may reflect not only different methodology but also, as Hitt (5) has argued, different models of man. Although experimental psychology seems to comprise most published research, it does not, unfortunately lend itself very well to overall prediction. Commonly only one variable at a time is manipulated. Yet the events, processes, and situations that the experimentalist studies are obviously of no small importance in the development of political preferences. "Correlational" psychologists hope that the stable traits and attitude constellations that they measure will embody the results of the processes that the experimentalist studies, but the present results could be taken as suggesting that this hope is only very partially realized. Unless therefore we can incorporate the sort of life-event variables studied by the experimentalist, we surely cannot aspire to a complete psychology. Incorporating such variables into an overall prediction of political preferences will, however, not be easy. The sheer number of possible events in a person's life with potential to influence the person's views must alone constitute a formidable problem.


1. Further details of the survey and its results may be found in: Ray, J.J. (1973) Dogmatism in relation to sub-types of conservatism: Some Australian data. European J. Social Psychology 3, 221-232; Ray, J.J.(1972) Acceptance of aggression and Australian voting preference. Australian Quarterly 44, 64-70 ; and Ray, J.J. (1982) Towards a definitive alienation scale. J. Psychology, 112, 67-70.

2. Burnham, W. D., & Sprague, J. Additive and multiplicative models of the voting universe. American Political Science Review, 1970, 64, 471-490.

3. Ray, J.J. & Singh, Satvir (1980) Effects of individual differences on productivity among farmers in India. Journal of Social Psychology 112, 11-17.

4. Full details of beta weights etc. are given in: Ray, J. J Authoritarianism and working class ideology. Unpublished Ph.D dissertation submitted in the School of Behavioural Sciences of Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, 1972.

5. Hitt. W. D. Two models of man. American Psychologist, 1969, 24, 651-658.

School of Sociology, University of New South Wales, P.O. Box 1, Kensington, Australia 2033

* Received in the Editorial Office. Provincetown, Massachusetts, on August 16, 1982. Copyright, 1984, by The Journal Press.


The zero order correlations with vote (beta weights in brackets) were as follows. Note that with the given N, only correlations above .180 are significant at the < .05 level (two-tailed):

Age -.086 (-.152), Occupation .388 (.237), Subjective class .407 (.246), Education .144 (.235), Father's education .119 (-.163), Acceptance of Aggression .284 (.217), Political conservatism .312 (.000), Social conservatism .194 (.103), Economic conservatism .393 (.240), Moral conservatism .121 (.012), Attitude to authority .302 (.206), Dogmatism .072 (.276), Balanced F scale .097 (-.204), Alienation -.266 (-.125).

The results of this study should be compared with the results of Ray (1984) -- see particularly Addendum 5 there.


Ray, J.J. (1984) Attitude to abortion, attitude to life and conservatism in Australia. Sociology & Social Research 68, 236-246.

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