Innocuous question a great predictor of political beliefs

The folks over at OkCupid analyze large data sets to find surprising results, then blog about them. The latest article is about lightweight questions that correlate to something more serious you want to know. One in particular jumped out at me:

If you want to know...

Do we share the same politics?

Ask him or her...

  • Do you prefer the people in your life to be simple or complex?


We were very surprised to find that this one question very strongly predicts a person's ideas on these divisive issues:

Should burning your country's flag be illegal?
Should the death penalty be abolished?
Should gay marriage be legal?
Should Evolution and Creationism be taught side-by-side in schools?

In each case, complexity-preferrers are 65-70% likely to give the Liberal answer. And those who prefer simplicity in others are 65-70% likely to give the Conservative one.

This correlation is for a nationwide dataset; it won't be as useful in places where one ideology is much more prevelant than the other. For example, in New York City there are lots of people who like simplicity and yet have Liberal politics.