TIME politics

It’s True: Liberals Like Cats More Than Conservatives Do

Preferences for pets or particular kinds of food can accurately predict partisanship, research from more than 200,000 TIME readers shows

In January, TIME ran a 12-question quiz that guessed your politics based on things like your preference for cats versus dogs and the neatness of your desk. The survey’s questions were all taken from previous research projects that found differences between liberals and conservatives on matters not directly related to politics. (You can still take the original quiz here.)

Many readers were skeptical, to say the least. The comments section simmered with protests like “Since WHEN does being a cat-lover make one a liberal?” and “Having a neat desk isn’t political.”

Loving cats may not make a person a liberal, but it does increase the odds that a person already is one. To see how accurate our survey was, we analyzed the data from 220,192 TIME readers who took the quiz and then volunteered their actual political preferences, and found that all 12 items did in fact predict partisanship correctly.

Even seemingly innocuous questions like ones about the state of one’s desk or preference for fusion cuisine had at least modest predictive power. A majority of TIME readers, like a majority of Americans, prefer dogs to cats, but conservatives had a significantly stronger preference, on average.

Overall, the quiz’s predictions were quite accurate when compared to a respondent’s self-reported ideology. (The correlation coefficient was 0.682, for those of you keeping score at home.) The individual questions varied in their predictive accuracy, from low (but non-negligible) correlation of 0.124 for the “cats versus dogs” question to 0.471 for the statement “I’m proud of my country’s history.”

When you add together a bunch of these modest predictors, you end up with a pretty good guess as to how a person votes. Not as good as asking people about their views on taxes, abortion and gun control, but enough to show that partisanship nowadays correlates with many non-political attitudes and behaviors.

Interestingly, Libertarians—often considered as being on the political right—fell between the liberal and conservative extremes on most questions. Even when it came to an affinity for nature’s truest libertarians: felines.

TIME relationships

TIME Can Predict Your Perfect Marriage Date

Find out how many of your Facebook friends have put a ring on it and what their relationships say about your own timing in the love department.

Real-world social networks exert an enormous influence over our attitudes about marriage. This is one reason that Facebook makes some people so unhappy. Watching the parade of our friends’ major life events makes us both envious and lonely.

Given that envy and loneliness are Valentine’s Day’s two chief exports, TIME presents an app that analyzes your Facebook feed to see exactly when your friends are tying the knot—and when it might be time for you to take the plunge.

Methodology

This application measures the median age of your married friends, meaning the person for whom half your married friends are younger and half are older. Because you are probably friends with a lot of people close to your age, this figure will theoretically identify whether you have passed the point where many of your contemporaries start tying the knot. It will work better for some than others.

For the purposes of this tool, “married” refers to anyone who lists his or her relationship status as “married,” “engaged,” “in a domestic partnership,” or “in a civil union.” We’re aware that some people use this status facetiously. Since the distribution of your friends’ ages tends to form a bell curve centered on your own age, a few jokesters shouldn’t throw off the figure drastically.

This app only counts friends who list their date of birth, including the year. In testing, TIME found that this amounted to about 25 percent of all profiles, but that will vary from user to user.

Many people who are not in a serious relationship simply do not list a relationship status. It is not possible to distinguish these people from those who are married but choose not to report that fact to Facebook. As a result, the percentage of married friends that this app reports is probably lower than the actual figure, though not by a huge margin.

TIME facebook

How Much Time Have You Wasted on Facebook?

Estimate the total amount of time you've spent on the site with this tool.

Facebook will celebrate its 10th birthday next week. Created in a dorm room by Mark Zuckerberg and a few friends, TheFacebook.com came to life on Feb. 4, 2004. In its decade of existence, the social network has attracted 1.1 billion users, and all their pokes, wall posts, baby photos and engagement announcements add up to a whole lot of time. Use TIME’s calculator to see just how many days of your life have been lost to this ten-year-old.

Methodology

Facebook doesn’t publicize data on exactly how often a user logs in, though you can bet that they’ve got that information. In lieu of that measurement, this app runs through the timestamps on every post in your feed until it reaches the earliest one, which it uses as the estimated date that you created your profile. Users who are extraordinarily active on the site may get an estimate that is considerably later than the actual date that they joined.

TIME Oscars

Make Your Own Oscar-Winning Movie With One Click

TIME analyzed 242 best-picture nominees to create an algorithm that generates story lines for Oscar-caliber movies.

In honor of the 2014 Academy Award nominations, which were announced Thursday, TIME took the 242 movies that have been nominated for Best Picture since 1970 and melted them down to their constituent parts. Each time you click “Keep playing,” our algorithm recombines a few of these scraps into a synopsis for a new movie that could reasonably complete for the film industry’s top prize.

To see which movie inspired each term, hover your mouse or tap on a word.

How it works

We started with the keywords from the Internet Movie Database for each of the 242 nominees going back to 1970, a total of 12,020 unique tags like “cancer,” “California” or “Catholic.” Here’s one tip gleaned from that chaos of data: Want to win an Oscar? Hire a doctor. There are 48 of them peppered across the 242 movies we studied, more than any other profession. You’d do well to place him in 1940s New York City as well, since that is the most popular decade and location (though not always in combination).

Since the goal was to create plots that were plausible, we couldn’t just string together randomly selected keywords into Mad Libs-style plot summaries. (This sort of strategy would be high in anachronisms and completely non-sensical phrases.) To choose how to combine the keywords, this tool looks at which ones are most likely to appear alongside one another in a picture. After randomly choosing a tag to begin with, the algorithm performs an association game by looking at which other tags belong with that one. If the first tag is “mafia,” for example, the related tags will include “organized crime,” “New York City,” “violence,” and so forth. After choosing one of these related tags, the algorithm then looks at that tag’s relatives, and so forth and so on, spidering out through the network of themes, characters and locations until a coherent ensemble emerges.

It doesn’t always work. There will occasionally be a character in 17th-century Washington, D.C. or a World War II veteran in the year 1920. But by and large, the combinations make sense. There may also be some offensive plot combinations in there. Since there are truly billions of possible outcomes, it’s impossible for us to check them all.

This feature was updated on Jan. 16 to include the 2014 Oscar nominations. Additional research provided by: Charlotte Alter, Sarah Begley, Samantha Grossman, Laura Stampler and Olivia Waxman. Designed by Alexander Ho.

TIME infographic

Can TIME Predict Your Politics?

See how your preferences in dogs, Internet browsers, and 10 other items predict your partisan leanings.

Read Jonathan Haidt: Your Personality Makes Your Politics

Social scientists find many questions about values and lifestyle that have no obvious connection to politics can be used to predict a person’s ideology. Even a decision as trivial as which browser you’re using to read this article is imbued with clues about your personality. Are you on a Mac or PC? Did you use the default program that came with the computer or install a new one?

In the following interactive, we put together 12 questions that have a statistical correlation to a person’s political leanings, even if the questions themselves are seemingly apolitical. At the end of this (completely anonymous) quiz, we’ll use your responses to guess your politics.

How it works

We created this survey by drawing on several sources. Research by Sam Gosling, at the University of Texas, has found that liberals generally score higher than conservatives on the trait of “openness to experience.” They are more likely to seek out new experiences (such as fusion cuisine), choose to watch documentaries, or enjoy art museums. They have less conventional notions of what is proper in a romantic relationship, so solo pornography consumption is OK. Conservatives are more likely to stick with what is familiar, what is tried and true. Hence, they are more likely to use a PC than a Mac and are more likely to stick with that PC’s default browser, Internet Explorer. Conservatives score higher than liberals on the trait of conscientiousness. They are more organized (neat desks), punctual, and self-controlled (rather than emphasizing self-expression).

We also drew on several surveys from YourMorals.org for data about how values correspond to politics. Conservatives, for example, tend to value respect for authority and group loyalty more than liberals do. Conservatives, therefore, typically show less ambivalence about American history and have a stronger preference for dogs, who are more loyal and obedient than cats. Liberals are more universalist than nationalist; they tend to support the United Nations more, and to wish that the boundaries between countries and the divisions between nations would fade away (as in John Lennon’s song “Imagine.”)

Each of these items is only a weak predictor of ideology. We added them all together (weighting some more than others) to create a short scale with moderate predictive power. But of course people are highly variable. Many conservatives love exotic cuisines and the Metropolitan Museum of Art; many liberals have neat desks and hate cats. And many people can’t place themselves along the liberal-conservative dimension – such as libertarians, or people who find wisdom on both sides on different issues.

For more in-depth surveys on a variety of subjects, please visit YourMorals.org.

Update: Jan. 10, 2014, 11:00 a.m.: It works! Our analysis of 17,000 responses from readers who chose to report their actual ideology found a strong correlation (r=0.604, for those of you keeping score) between a person’s self-reported ideology and the output of the quiz. This is a particularly strong correlation given the wide degree of personal variation in taste that is intrinsic to this sort of research.

The biggest weakness we discovered is that the results from our survey were less distributed across the spectrum than the figures for people’s self-reported ideologies. A person who reported themselves as “very liberal” or “very conservative” tended to receive scores that were artificially close to the center. As of this update, the quiz now employs a basic statistical correction to more accurately reflect the extremity of one’s politics. The “direction” of the results—whether you’re more conservative or more liberal—is unchanged.

TIME People

Obama’s 18 Favorite Golf Partners (You’ve Only Heard of One)

An interactive tally of every round of golf that the president has played while in office.

For decades, the most powerful golf game in Washington has usually been whichever one the President plays. In the past five years, the capital’s power brokers have had almost zero luck joining it. Marvin Nicholson, meanwhile, has had the privilege 103 times since Barack Obama took office.

Nicholson is not a Washington stiff. He is a former bartender and caddy who became John Kerry’s body man during the 2004 campaign after meeting the then-senator at a windsurfing shop. He now serves as Obama’s trip director, overseeing all aspects of the president’s travel. But his most important role is arguably as First Bro, accompanying the president on about two-thirds of his 145 golf outings since taking office, according to TIME’s analysis of daily press pool reports.

Most presidents play golf, regardless of whether they enjoyed the sport as a non-president. Clinton, who was famous for cheating, employed the sport just as one might assume: as grounds for entertaining donors and buttering up entrenched political opponents. Obama clearly prefers to use his tee times to unwind with the guys—and they are almost exclusively guys—and appears reluctant to introduce new faces to his foursomes. He eschews golf’s “good ole boy” image in at least one way: Of the 16 men Obama has played golf with at least 5 times, 12 of them are younger than him, most by at least a decade.

And since winning reelection, he has played like a man possessed. His outing with Nicholson and sports journalists Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon on Sept. 14 marked the 11th straight weekend that he has played, dating back to an Africa trip in late June that pulled him away from the game for a few days. Between a birthday celebration at the Andrews Air Force Base on Aug. 3, six rounds during a week in Martha’s Vineyard, and two weekend outings in the Washington region after returning, he set a personal record of nine outings in the month of August. He squeezed in the last of those outings shortly after he announced that he would seek Congressional approval for a military strike on Syria. Through the first week of September, he has played 32 times in 2013, putting him on track to shatter his annual record of 34 games, set in 2011.

If there’s any question that Obama prefers to leave the presidency behind when on the course, consider this: Obama has included another elected official in a game only nine times since taking office, and on five of those occasions that official was Joe Biden. Meanwhile, he has played 33 rounds with campaign photographer David Katz, 26 with his friend Dr. Eric Whitaker from Chicago, and nine with Walter Nicholson, a man who’s chief qualification is being the trip director’s brother.

Methodology

Data updated as of Jan. 3, 2014. An archive of pool reports was generously provided by Gerhard Peters of the American Presidency Project. Names of Obama’s companions were first extracted using a custom computer script and then checked by hand. When possible, results were corroborated against the Washington Post POTUS Tracker and records kept by CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller.

With Alexander Ho and Alex Rogers.

TIME psychology

America’s Mood Map: An Interactive Guide to the United States of Attitude

West Virginia is the most neurotic state, Utah is the most agreeable and the folks of Wisconsin are the country's most extroverted, a new study says. Take TIME's test to find out which state most suits you

For a country that features the word United so prominently in its name, the U.S. is a pretty fractious place. We splinter along fault lines of income, education, religion, race, hyphenated origin, age and politics. Then too there’s temperament. We’re coarse or courtly, traditionalist or rebel, amped up or laid-back. And it’s no secret that a lot of that seems to be determined by — or at least associated with — where we live.

Now a multinational team of researchers led by psychologist and American expat Jason Rentfrow of the University of Cambridge in the U.K. has sought to draw the regional lines more clearly, literally mapping the American mood, with state-by-state ratings of personality and temperament.

According to the study, the winners (or losers, depending on how you view these things) were in some cases surprising and in some not at all. The top scorers on extroversion were the ebullient folks of Wisconsin (picture the fans at a Packers game — even a losing Packers game). The lowest score went to the temperamentally snowbound folks of Vermont. Utah is the most agreeable place in the country and Washington, D.C., is the least (gridlock, anyone?).

For conscientiousness, South Carolina takes the finishing-their-homework-on-time prize, while the independent-minded Yanks of Maine — who prefer to do things their own way and in their own time, thank you very much — come in last. West Virginia is the dark-horse winner as the country’s most neurotic state (maybe it was the divorce from Virginia in 1863). The least neurotic? Utah wins again. Washington, D.C., takes the prize for the most open place — even if their low agreeableness score means they have no idea what to do with all of the ideas they tolerate. North Dakotans, meantime, prefer things predictable and familiar, finishing last on openness.

The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, was an exhaustive one, spanning 13 years and including nearly 1.6 million survey respondents from the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia. (Alaska and Hawaii were excluded because not enough people responded to the researchers’ questionnaires.) The subjects, recruited via websites and other means of advertising throughout the academic community as well as through less rarefied platforms like Facebook, were asked to take one of three different personality surveys, though the most relevant one was what’s known as the Big Five Inventory. (Take the full test here.) As its name implies, the survey measures personality along five different spectra, with the Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism labels forming a handy acronym: OCEAN.

Each of those categories is defined by more-specific personality descriptors, such as curiosity and a preference for novelty (openness); self-discipline and dependability (conscientiousness); sociability and gregariousness (extroversion); compassion and cooperativeness (agreeableness); and anxiety and anger (neuroticism). The inventory gets at the precise mix of those qualities in any one person by asking subjects to respond on a 1-to-5 scale, from strongly disagree to strongly agree, with 44 statements including, “I see myself as someone who can be tense,” or “can be reserved,” or “has an active imagination,” or “is talkative.” There turned out to be a whole lot of Americans willing to sit still for that kind of in-depth prying, from a low of 3,166 in Wyoming (a huge sample group for a small state) to a high of 177,085 in California.

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When the returns were tallied, the country broke down into three macro regions: New England and the Mid-Atlantic states, which the researchers termed “temperamental and uninhibited”; the South and Midwest, which were labeled “friendly and conventional”; and the West Coast, Rocky Mountains and Sun Belt, described as “relaxed and creative.” How they earned these labels was evident from the regions’ Big Five scores, with the temperamental and uninhibited states, for example, blowing the doors off the rest of the country on the neuroticism scale and the relaxed and creative ones similarly leading on openness.

There is no shortage of historical and geographical explanations for why the regions break down the way they do, but migration is the biggest piece of the puzzle. Pioneers who moved West were, by definition, people with open, curious, flexible temperaments, traits that become part of the settled regions’ DNA and were passed down through the generations. The researchers found a creative way to confirm this theory, comparing the date the 48 surveyed states became part of the union with their relaxed and creative profile. The result: the later a state joined, the higher its score turned out to be. That very openness and wanderlust stays with the native-born residents of these regions, often impelling them to keep right on moving.

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“People who score high on these measures also have a high likelihood of migrating and settling into cosmopolitan areas,” says Rentfrow. Regions that score lower on openness and higher on the friendly and conventional scale, by contrast, have the lowest rates of emigration. “If you’re traditional and friendly and value family life, what’s the point of moving away?” Rentfrow asks.

An American by birth but a resident of the U.K., Rentfrow has an innate familiarity with America’s regional differences, but also a certain distance from the white-hot way they’ve grown worse of late. For all the fretting we do over such factionalism, he’s not sure things are as bad as they seem.

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“Political values may exaggerate the temperamental differences and a sense of tribalism may emerge,” he concedes, “but these things all come from a mix of common personality types. The Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic may be very different from the Rockies and the West, for example, but openness is a big part of both personality profiles.”

That simple idea might be the best message we can take from the study. We’re less a nation of warring tribes and angry camps than we are a loud, boisterous, messy mix of geography, social history and the unpredictable X factors of human personality, all trying to make a go of things under the same national flag. In other words, we’re exactly what the Founding Fathers intended us to be.

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