Intelligence is easily one of the most controversial and divisive issues in scientific psychology. Add the issue of political ideology and the result is likely to stir up heated debate. How about the combination of the two? Are intelligence political ideology related in any way?
The subject is a complex one and not yet fully understood. Studies on the topic have produced some conflicting findings, but one theme that seems to emerge is the cultural context which influences the way intelligence and political orientation are related to each other. A number of theories have been proposed about the nature of the relationship between political views and intelligence.
“General intelligence, the ability to think and reason, endowed our ancestors with advantages in solving evolutionarily novel problems for which they did not have innate solutions. As a result, more intelligent people are more likely to recognize and understand such novel entities and situations than less intelligent people, and some of these entities and situations are preferences, values, and lifestyles.” – Satoshi Kanazawa, evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics and Political Science (2010)
Not too long ago, scholars have argued that conservative political ideologies tend to be associated with lower intelligence on average (Stankov, 2009).
Conservatives generally value tradition, respect for authority, and social order, and tend to be weary of innovation and change. These scholars have argued that such values tend to be associated with cognitive rigidity and may therefore appeal to people who have difficulty with intellectual challenges that require them to process novel information. In support of this, Stankov (2009) cited evidence that people with more conservative views tend to score lower on IQ tests and to have lower levels of education. Not surprisingly, conservatives tend to react with anger to such assertions. Interestingly, accusations of liberal bias among academics are often made, especially among social psychologists in particular (e.g. Prentice, 2012).
“Humans are evolutionarily designed to be paranoid, and they believe in God because they are paranoid; so, more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to go against their natural evolutionary tendency to believe in God, and they become atheists.” – Satoshi Kanazawa (2010)
[Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (2010) supports Kanazawa’s hypothesis. Young adults who subjectively identify themselves as ‘very liberal’ have an average IQ of 106 during adolescence, while those who identify themselves as ‘very conservative’ have an average IQ of 95 during adolescence. Similarly, young adults who identify themselves as ‘not at all religious’ have an average IQ of 103 during adolescence, while those who identify themselves as ‘very religious’ have an average IQ of 97 during adolescence.]
Left-wing and Right-wing extremes
An alternative theory, originally proposed by the British 20th century psychologist Hans Eysenck, is that higher intelligence is associated with avoidance of extreme political views in general.
Hence, more intelligent people are thought to be moderate or centrist in their political views. The argument is that more extreme views, whether right-wing or left-wing, tend to be associated with dogmatism and rigidity, which are more appealing to less intelligent people. A proponent of this view is the German psychologist Heiner Rindermann who argued that more intelligent people tend to have civic values that lead them to support political systems they believe will foster education and the growth of knowledge (Rindermann, Flores-Mendoza, & Woodley, 2012).
Therefore, according to this view, intelligent people tend to believe that moderate or centrist parties are more likely to promote their particular social interests compared to more clearly left or right parties. However, this view is not as heavily supported as the one which focuses on the intellectual problems with cognitive rigidity of thought, and right-wing conservatism in particular.