The study of intelligence is one of the areas that has generated more clashes of views in both psychology and social sciences in general.

Defining what intelligence is is in itself a battlefield , and if we also try to relate the concept of IQ to the political ideology of each person, the controversy is served. The reason is clear: a high IQ is a trait that all defenders of political positions want to associate with their cause, because intelligence is not simply a personal characteristic, but also carries a strong moral value: being intelligent is good.

But, beyond all the biased opinions and value judgments, there are some researches that, although they have limitations and could be victims of certain biases in their design, try to address the issue of the relationship between IC and political ideology in the least subjective way possible. So…are people on the left more intelligent? Those on the centre, perhaps? Let’s see what has been found through these studies.

Left, right and their relationship to the IC

In general, if we had to say whether people on the left or the right are more intelligent and we only had to give an answer without going into details, we would have to admit that there are more studies that relate a higher IQ to left-wing ideologies than studies that do the same with right-wing positions. However, within this simplistic view of the results obtained through research there are several things that must be taken into account.

The first is that there are many studies that have come up with contradictory results. There are two possible reasons for this. The first is that classifying political ideologies into “left and right” is a way of oversimplifying reality , and the second is that the culture of each country and region seems to play a very important role in the way in which intelligence and ideology are related. We will now see what this means.

What does it mean to be conservative?

One of the best known theories when it comes to explaining how IQ and political positioning interact is the one that distinguishes between progressive and conservative .

According to Lazar Stankov, for example, conservative people are characterized by a certain cognitive rigidity : they value very positively the constant monitoring of rules and the respect for authority, traditions and orthodoxy when interpreting texts. In short, they make their own a framework of rules already given to them by certain authorities or pressure groups.

This way of following rules can be seen as the antithesis of the concept of intelligence, which is related to the ability to find creative ways of behaving in new situations through a good dose of mental agility, which is why Stankov and other researchers have proposed that people with less intelligence are more seduced by conservative political positions. Furthermore, Stankov himself found correlations between a low IQ and a high score in conservatism , which reinforced this theory.

Now… Doesn’t this relationship between ideology and intelligence depend on the cultural context of each country? Currently there is information provided by studies that indicate how the history of a country or region affects the way in which the dominant ideology “by default” is more situated on the right or on the left. Thus, while in Brazil there is a strong attachment to ideological centralism because of the historical instability of the country, in Russia conservatism is more related to Stalin’s orthodox communism, while in the US the conservative character is related to anti-communism and the defence of military interventions outside the country.

The nuances within ideologies

Another aspect to take into account when seeing how the IQ and ideology are related is the following question: can it be said that there is only one left and one right? There are several studies that show that within the groups of people identified as conservative or progressive there are details that show to what extent these two categories have very different subgroups from each other. For example, one can be economically liberal and socially conservative . This is what happens, for example, in people attached to right-wing positions related to the rejection of non-Western ways of life and to left-wing values that in turn defend the existence of the free circulation of money.

At the same time, people who see themselves as advocates for centrist policies may be seen as members of a third group with their own characteristics that distinguish them from people with extreme ideologies. In this sense, there are both studies that relate high IQ to a moderate centre position and others that find the opposite phenomenon: a high intelligence associated with people with more radical positions on both the right and the left. Rindermann and his team of researchers found the first type of result, while Kemmelmeier found the second.

Why does this happen? There are many possible factors that may explain this difference, but one of them possibly has to do with the characteristics of the groups of people studied in each of these studies.

Sophisticated political tastes

While Rindermann, who saw a relationship between a high IQ and moderate ideology, studied people with an average intelligence level, Kemmelmeier studied people with a higher than normal IQ .

This would suggest that people who are intellectually gifted within the norm would be more seduced by the moderate, while the more intelligent would be more likely to explore more sophisticated and socially distant isions, finding ways in which they can be seduced by them. This is a probable explanation, since a relationship has also been found between a high IQ and a greater tendency to assert that one has well-defined political positions , while people without a defined political ideology tend to obtain lower intelligence scores.

In conclusion

Although very interesting results have been obtained through several investigations, there are still no conclusive results that would allow us to state with a good degree of certainty that people of a certain political ideology are more intelligent.

Cultural factors and nuances within the political spectrum have an importance that makes it difficult to find universal trends.

Bibliographic references:

  • Kemmelmeier, M. (2008). ¿Existe una relación entre la orientación política y la capacidad cognitiva? Una prueba de tres hipótesis en dos estudios. Personality and Individual Differences, 45(8), pp. 767 – 772.
  • Rindermann, H., Flores-Mendoza, C., & Woodley, M. A. (2012). Orientaciones políticas, inteligencia y educación. Intelligence, 40(2), págs. 217 a 225.
  • Stankov, L. (2009). Conservatismo y capacidad cognitiva. Intelligence, 37(3), págs. 294 a 304.