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Department of Political Science
University of Mississippi

More than a Feeling: Personality, Polarization, and the Transformation of the US Congress

More Than a Feeling


Chicago Press, 2017

Whatever you think about the widening divide between Democrats and Republicans, ideological differences do not explain why politicians from the same parties, who share the same goals and policy preferences, often argue fiercely about how best to attain them. This perplexing misalignment suggests that we are missing an important piece of the puzzle. Political scientists have increasingly drawn on the relationship between voters’ personalities and political orientation, but there has been little empirically grounded research looking at how legislators’ personalities influence their performance on Capitol Hill.

With More Than a Feeling, Adam J. Ramey, Jonathan D. Klingler, and Gary E. Hollibaugh, Jr. have developed an innovative framework incorporating what are known as the Big Five dimensions of personality—openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism—to improve our understanding of political behavior among members of Congress. To determine how strongly individuals display these traits, the authors identified correlates across a wealth of data, including speeches, campaign contributions and expenditures, committee involvement, willingness to filibuster, and even Twitter feeds. They then show how we might expect to see the influence of these traits across all aspects  of Congress members’ political behavior—from the type and quantity of legislation they sponsor and their style of communication to whether they decide to run again or seek a higher office. They also argue convincingly that the types of personalities that have come to dominate Capitol Hill in recent years may be contributing to a lot of the gridlock and frustration plaguing the American political system.

Jeffery J. Mondak, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
“With More Than a Feeling, Ramey, Klingler, and Hollibaugh make the compelling case that variation in personality matters for many of the behaviors studied by congressional scholars. Creatively researched and thoroughly grounded in the relevant psychological literature, the book makes an enormous contribution to the conversation about individual differences and elite behavior.”
Arthur Spirling, New York University
“A fascinating statistical study of Congressional personalities and the way those traits systematically affect the outcomes of our institutions of government. Using cutting edge data science measurement techniques applied to hundreds of thousands of modern legislative speeches, the authors demonstrate that psychological proclivities vary widely across actors, and that these have real effects on behavior. This book will be of interest to anyone who wants to understand how we got to the modern ills of Congressional polarization, deadlock, and dysfunction, why we seem stuck there, and how we might escape.”
Congress and the Presidency
“Even in an era of resurgent partisanship in government, recent events make clear that the workings of Congress continue to reflect the particular mix of personalities within its ranks. . . . More Than a Feeling provides an ambitious quantitative examination of the relationship between the personality characteristics of members and various aspects of congressional behavior.”
Perspectives on Politics
“In the end, the reader cannot but agree with the authors when they write in the conclusion that ‘personality matters both theoretically and empirically’ . . . They provide keen insight into what makes the individual members of Congress tick.”