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Title:Personality and the political system: An exploration of the psychological roots of political support
Author(s):Cawvey, Matthew
Director of Research:Canache, Damarys J.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Canache, Damarys J.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Mondak, Jeffery J.; Rudolph, Thomas J.; Winters, Matthew S.
Department / Program:Political Science
Discipline:Political Science
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Big Five
Political Support
Political Participation
Abstract:The quality of democracy depends on mass participation in political life, for engaged citizens can represent their interests, hold elected officials accountable, and collaborate to solve societal problems. In spite of the benefits to participation, many individuals do not engage in public affairs. Scholars have sought to explain citizen participation for decades, and one factor that has received attention is public attitudes toward the political system. But what causes an individual to support or oppose political institutions, democratic principles, and other aspects of the political world? Researchers have offered several answers to this question, but I contend that the literature has not adequately explored the connection between personality and political support. Unlike some factors, the causal relationship between personality and support attitudes is fairly clear, as a substantial amount of the variation in personality traits is attributable to genetic variation across individuals. The roots of personality, in other words, predate a person’s initiation into the political world in late adolescence and early adulthood. In this dissertation, I build a two-step model that links personality traits to political support and support attitudes to citizen behavior. The first half of my theory applies a model from occupational psychology to understand how personality interacts with the environment to influence political support outcomes. This model, known as trait activation theory, expects personality effects to occur only when traits are activated by relevant cues in one’s surroundings. As I argue in my theory, the model has implications for the direct and conditional effects of personality on a variety of attitudes and behaviors, including views about the political system. My theory also contributes to the literature on the mediation hypothesis by emphasizing political support as a mediator for the relationship between personality and citizen behavior. The second half of my model thus points to the relevance of the personality–support relationship for behavioral outcomes such as political participation. For the empirical part of this dissertation, I explore three aspects of the model while incorporating public opinion surveys from as many as 24 countries. First, I provide a comprehensive account for the direct effects of personality on support for five objects of the political system: the political community, regime principles, regime performance, regime institutions, and political actors. Then, I investigate how the relationship between personality and support depends on contextual factors related to threat levels in one’s environment, such as the degree of political corruption. Finally, I explore how personality works through political support to influence citizen behavior. The findings in this dissertation emphasize the impact of personality on support attitudes and the downstream effect of this relationship on political participation. Based on the results of my dissertation, politicians and nongovernmental organizations could target their communications to groups based on the personality traits of those groups, encouraging political support and thereby promoting one of the hallmarks of citizen competence: engagement in public affairs.
Issue Date:2017-08-10
Rights Information:Copyright 2017 Matthew Cawvey
Date Available in IDEALS:2018-03-13
Date Deposited:2017-12

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