Specifically, Johnston & Co. show that those with “closed” personalities actually favor economic liberalism — if they do not follow politics closely. Conversely, low-information, “high openness” voters actually tend toward economic conservatism. But these tendencies are obscured in polling that does not separate highly engaged voters from less politically attentive ones, because the correlation between “openness” and economic views reverses for strong partisans: Among people who read blogs like this one, openness strongly correlates with economic liberalism. This is ostensibly because, for most political enthusiasts in the modern era, cultural issues are more visceral and salient than economic ones. Thus, most highly engaged voters gravitate toward whichever party aligns with their values on social and cultural controversies, and then adopt their team’s economic orthodoxy. (To posit that neurology and personality exert influence on political behavior is not to say that human beings are automatons or that rhetoric and historical context do not shape political identity; personal disposition is simply one of many variables influencing political decision-making).
This has two major implications for the prospect of a Republican realignment on economic policy. One is that the current, disproportionately high levels of fiscal conservatism among Republican voters are largely the product of elite signaling; for a substantial portion of the GOP base, fiscal conservatism has always been an acquired taste. Republicans who challenge their party’s economic orthodoxy may therefore be pushing on an open door — especially if trusted conservative commentators like Tucker Carlson continue signaling that one can favor “nationalist” economic policy and still be a conservative.
The second implication is that an economically liberal Republican Party could eat substantially into the Democrats’ vote share. Opinion polling suggests that about 25 percent of Hillary Clinton voters actually lean right on cultural issues. There’s reason to suspect that a significant portion of this contingent consists of politically disengaged voters with relatively closed “personalities,” who prioritize their intuitions on economics at the ballot box. It may take time for the GOP to gain credibility on economic policy with such Americans. But if it does, Democrats could find themselves in a great deal of trouble.