Politics and dating

The Financial Times recently ran a fascinating report about the inner-workings of the successful online dating website Match.com. Like many social networking websites, Match.com is powered by a sophisticated algorithm — or mathematical function — that uses a number of variables to bring people together in the virtual world. In this case, Match.com is bringing single people together for the sake of meeting online and then, if all goes well, dating in the real world.

The algorithm needs data to work. It gets that data from the way users behave on the site. For example, if a female user is browsing the profiles of older men, the algorithm will know that she is interested in older men, and it will filter her search results accordingly.

From data like these, Match.com was able to draw a conclusion about politics and dating. According to Match.com engineer Amarnath Thombre, “Conservatives are far more open to reaching out to someone [on the dating site] with a different point of view than a liberal is.” In other words, conservatives are far more tolerant of dating liberals than liberals are of spending time with conservatives.

Why would this be? First of all, when it comes to dating, we are dealing with a young demographic. Almost half of Match.com’s singles are between the ages of 18 and 35. Younger people tend to be more liberal, so there is likely to be a smaller pool of single conservatives on the website. If a conservative wants to maximize his chances of getting a date, he will need to reach out across the aisle, so the speak, and be open to dating liberals.

Could there, however, be a deeper philosophical reason behind the open-mindedness of conservatives when it comes to dating? There may be. Examining other differences between liberals and conservatives can help us answer this question. A good place to start is Arthur Brooks’ “Gross National Happiness,” a book that argues that conservatives are twice as happy as liberals. In a 2008 interview about the book, Brooks said, “What determines whether or not [people are] happy is their private lives. Politics thankfully is not that important to people.” Part of the reason liberals are less happy than conservatives is because their private lives are so defined by the public world of politics.

Consider how a liberal would react to a political loss versus how a conservative would react. Brooks, an economist and president of the American Enterprise Institute, notes of conservatives: “If you’re conservative and a liberal wins the White House it wouldn’t make you less happy.” Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center has found that “liberal Democrats are more likely than other voters to say they would have an intense emotional reaction if their candidate does not win.”

Liberals are also far more likely than conservatives to follow election results, donate to political causes and volunteer for political campaigns. According to the Pew Research Center, during the 2008 election cycle 34 percent of liberal Democrats donated to a campaign, while only 13 percent of Republicans did. Conservatives were donating their money, too — but to charities, many of them religious. As George Will wrote in 2008, “Although liberal families’ incomes average 6 percent higher than those of conservative families, conservative-headed households give, on average, 30 percent more to charity than the average liberal-headed household.”