Are you dogmatic, intolerant of ambiguity with views rooted in fear and aggression - hardly a winning combination for a lonely hearts entry?
Well according to American researchers the chances are that if you have these dubious attributes then you are a Conservative.
The study has concluded that Conservatism can be reduced to a series of psychological neuroses. Fascinatingly this work was funded by the US government.
Jon Sopel was joined by Professor Arie Kruglanski, one of the authors of the report, and the shadow cabinet member David Willetts.
Professor, coming to you first, mental
rigidity, close-mindedness, low self-
esteem, fear, anger, aggression, loss
prevention, fear of death - it hardly
sounds enticing to be a Conservative.
PROFESSOR ARIE KRUGLANSKI
UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND:
Our analysis actually views these as
universal psychological variables rather
than neuroses. One of the major
contributions of the study is that we get
away from a medical model analysis
whereby Conservative or liberal thought
reveals a kind of sickness or a
psychopathology. We view these
variables as universal human dimension
to which anybody can be prone,
including people who are liberals in
certain situations. So the study actually
gets away from neurotisisation or
pathologisation of Conservatism. It was
misrepresented in the media. The terms
that you mentioned for example,
intolerance of ambiguity or close-
mindedness or fear of uncertainty are not
negative terms at all. They can be
synonymous with decisiveness, with
loyalty, with commitment, so it's a
matter of the kind of twist or the kind of
spin you put on them. And we, in our
study, did not put any value ...
OK. David Willetts, did you recognise
any of yourself in that description?
DAVID WILLETTS MP:
I hope not. But I must say I think this is
a pretty odd study. It seems to me that
the problem with it is it goes back sort of
50 years, as you said in your
introduction, to studies of what they
called the authoritarian personality,
people who followed Hitler and
Mussolini. That's why early in study,
they list Ronald Reagan, Hitler and
Mussolini as three classic Conservatives.
It seems to me the old studies which
tried to explain why people became
fascists in Germany don't really help to
explain why members of Havant
Conservative Association come to help
run the bring and buy stall at our
Conservative summer fete. These are
people who care about the future of their
country, many believe in public service.
Some of these caricatures are pretty
You're probably not familiar with the
Conservative Association bring and buy
sale, but what about the more general
point David Willetts is making, that you
simply cannot reduce political types to a
series of psychological attributes?
That's precisely our point. I would like to
make two points in response to him.
First of all, we part ways completely
with the adornal [sic] type of analyses
that pathologise Conservative thought or
authoritarianism. We explain it in terms
of psychological variables that have
trade of values. They have some
advantages and some disadvantages. One
could portray liberals as wishy-washy,
indecisive, disloyal, uncommitted, if one
wanted to. We don't. Second point we
would like to make is we do not claim
psychological variables can explain
political ideology totally. This is the
main contribution of the study that we
delimit what psychology can and cannot
do. There are psychological variables
that are universal.
Let me just bring David in there. Do you
not think that in this analysis there are
bits of Margaret Thatcher that seem
slightly recognisable? Dislike of nuance,
wanting things to be clear in black and
white, disliking sort of indecision, all
those things that were common to
Margaret Thatcher, common to Ronald
Reagan, two heroes of the right of the
past 30 years?
I think certainly one of the features of
great leadership is to know paradoxically
when to close your mind, when to say,
right, that's enough analysis, that's
enough argument, now we've got to get
on with it. That is an important quality.
There is sometimes in this paper a sort of
caricature of what Conservatives believe.
This aversion to change is Conservatives
actually displaying a rather attractive
human trait of not being confident that
we're so arrogant that we know better
than the people who have created the
institutions around us, not believing that
one minister in Government can know
better than thousands of doctors or
teachers how best to deliver health care,
how to run schools. There's a degree of
humility, a respect for the way things
have been done by professionals over
history and that suddenly becomes fear
of change. It's not, it's respect for
dispersed knowledge and respect for
Mr Willetts, I wonder how different the
professor's analysis is to what Teresa
May said to your party conference last
year when she said "we're perceived as
the nasty party"?
This gets to the heart of why this
analysis is so pernicious, because what
happens is that people dismiss points
that you put forward because they
assume about a motivation. They can
assume ill will and say, we don't need to
listen to that critique of - for example in
my case, I have been talking a lot
recently of tax credits - they don't need
to listen to a Conservative critique of tax
credits. The Conservatives are just
saying it because they're not concerned
about poor people. That's the way in
which Labour dismisses Conservative
critiques of what they're doing and it's
often a way in which some
commentators dismiss some creative
imaginative ideas we put forward. We
have to put all of that to one side. This
assumption of ill will, this assumption
people can tell us what our motives are
and they don't need to comment on the
substance of our arguments, that's a big
problem of getting across the
Conservative case and it's something
we're fighting for at the moment.
Professor Kruglanski , very briefly
because we're running very short of time,
but isn't it fair to say that Conservatism
isn't based on psychology, it's based on
philosophy and liberty, the rights of the
individual, social ersponsibility. You
might not like the philosophy but that's
what it's based on.
It's based on both. Any set of beliefs has
motivation underpinnings whether it be
liberal ideology or Conservative
ideology. There is the philosophical part.
There are the contents but there is also a
psychological tendency to be
sympathetic, a propensity to accept those
contents, and again, we do not at all
place value on the propensity to accept
the Conservative or liberal ideology. We
do not caricature it. It's a very nuanced
Thank you very much indeed, both of
you, very much indeed.
This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.