(Sympathy for) the Devil You Know: Openness, Psychological Entropy, and the Case of the Incumbency Advantage

Adam J. Ramey, Jonathan D. Klingler, Gary E. Hollibaugh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Why do some individuals prefer lesser-known, riskier experiences over more well-known options in life? In this paper, we focus on the case of the electoral advantage to incumbency, and the role that psychological entropy reduction can play in undermining that advantage among individuals who lack simplifying heuristics, such as party brand loyalty. We build on recent work in political psychology, applying a more general political psychology framework linking the Big Five personality trait of Openness to a compulsion to gather and process information. Using data from the 2014 and 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Studies, we find more Open respondents are more willing to vote for more uncertain House challengers at higher rates, but only among Independent respondents who are unable to rely on partisan cues to simplify the psychological entropy presented by such challengers. This suggests Openness captures relative preferences for encountering and reducing psychological entropy rather than traditionally defined risk preferences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number636874
JournalFrontiers in Political Science
StatePublished - May 14 2021


  • incumbency advantage
  • personality psychology
  • psychological entropy
  • risk
  • uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Public Administration
  • Safety Research


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