The hidden psychology behind why people vote for certain parties

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer holds a copy of his party's election manifesto whilst campaigning in Halesowen in the West Midlands for this year's General Election on July 4. Picture date: Thursday June 13, 2024. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer - which way will you vote in this election? (Getty Images) (Stefan Rousseau - PA Images via Getty Images)

Do you have particularly strong feelings of disgust when confronted with something revolting like vomit or a cockroach?

Believe it or not, that could influence the way you place your vote in this year’s general election. Similar feelings play a part in whether you are open to new experiences, such as trying strange dishes in a restaurant or bungee jumping.

Voting is often irrational, and factors such as charismatic leaders can often sway which box people tick on their ballot, says Dr Rebekah Wanic, a mindset psychologist, university lecturer and self-optimisation coach.

Read more: 'Why I’m voting tactically in the general election'

Dr Wanic, founder of Vent to Reinvent, says that the reasons people vote certain ways are complex. People can and do change the way they vote, she says, but the reasons this happens are not always what you might expect.

In this election, prime minister Rishi Sunak has been the subject of negative stories around his attendance at the D-Day service and his ‘deprivation’ in not having a Sky dish as a child.

Negative stories tend to ‘stick’ more in people’s minds even than more relevant information such as new policies, Dr Wanic explains.

She said: "Humans are predisposed to pay attention to negative information and give it more diagnostic weight because of a negativity bias. These types of stories typically have a strong emotional component, which makes them stick out more in memory as well so they have more long-term impact.

"Users on social media platforms reinforce these tendencies by sharing more negative stories as well."

Studies have shown that people who feel disgust strongly may have more right-wing political views - with volunteers confronted with images of cockroaches, vomit and snakes.

Other studies have suggested that right-wingers tend to be more disturbed by threatening facial expressions.

Dr Rebekah Wanic, a mindset psychologist, university lecturer and self-optimization coach (Vent to Reinvent)
Dr Rebekah Wanic, a mindset psychologist, university lecturer and self-optimisation coach (Vent to Reinvent) (Vent to Reinvent)

But while studies have shown a link, it’s best to take these with a tiny pinch of salt, says Dr Wanic.

She said: "Most work here is from lab-based assessments, which is not to say it’s inaccurate but making strong claims about the role of disgust should be tempered because the active role of disgust online during vote casting has not been definitively outlined."

Some psychological research suggests that left-wingers tend to be more open to new experiences than right-wingers. So if you’re the sort of person who is constantly learning new musical instruments, or exploring the back of beyond, it’s more likely you’ll be left wing.

By contrast people with high conscientiousness (ie who are good at regulating their impulses) and are careful and diligent tend to gravitate to right-wing parties. Dr Wanic said that the evidence around these studies is ‘mixed’, but, ‘Conservatives tend to be more risk averse while liberals tend to be more tolerant of ambiguity.’

There’s a lot of psychological research which suggests that voters often don’t vote in their own interest, Dr Wanic said. Instead, charismatic candidates and factors such as the ‘likeability’ of politicians can sway people to vote in ways that aren’t actually good for them.

Emotional appeals, personality and appearance all have an effect on how people vote, Dr Wanic explains.

People who make their politics a part of their identity are less likely to shift allegiance - as are those who surround themselves with like-minded friends.

What can shift political allegiance is personal experience, Dr Wanic said, although learning new information can also sometimes shift people’s viewpoints.

Dr Wanic said: "Shifts generally happen in response to personal experiences, considering how age tends to influence voting patterns. This is likely, in part, the result of growing up and having different interactions with the world compared to those of younger voters."