According to a study in the October 2014 American Journal of Political Science, people are more likely to be attracted to the body odor of individuals who are politically like-minded. (“Assortative Mating on Ideology Could Operate Through Olfactory Cues.”) Determining this involved recruiting 146 people from a “large city in the northeast United States,” sorting them ideologically, taping gauze pads to the armpits of 20 of the most politically extreme, and having the remainder sniff vials of sweat to rate attractiveness.
I immediately wondered which city, since they don’t say. I mean, in some large cities in the northeast, conservatives are rather thin on the ground. And in fact this was something of a problem for them: they attempted to recruit directly from the College Republican groups at all their local universities without much apparent success, and when they found a conservative, tried to get each one to recruit all their conservative friends for the study. They still wound up with a group that leaned left.
They concluded that people prefer the smells of individuals whose political leanings match theirs. They didn’t need to prove that people tend to select mates who adhere to similar ideologies; that’s well-established. “Opposites attract” is largely a myth. The only trait in long-term mate selection more predictable than politics is religion. The article noted that religious similarity is explained by “social homogamy and proximity effects,” i.e., all the people you know are Methodists, and it’s marriageable Methodists you’ve got handy when you’re looking for someone to marry. Why this doesn’t also explain political similarities in long-term couples, I’m not sure. Especially as there’s also the “not wanting to marry someone who makes you stabby every time you discuss current events” explanation and the “oh my God, Fox News is a dealbreaker” factor.
The best part of the paper is an anecdote about two female study participants sniffing the same vial moments apart. It contained the sweat of a strong liberal. The liberal woman wanted to take it home because it smelled that good to her; the conservative woman thought the contents of the vial had maybe turned rancid.
There are a couple of factors that the political scientists doing the study didn’t get into, as far as I could tell from the paper. They did filter out smokers and heavy drinkers, but they don’t appear to have done any screening whatsoever regarding diet (other than to request that participants avoid foods with a strong smell during the 24 hours that they were wearing the pads). Your body chemistry isn’t just the result of you eating something really strong-smelling for lunch; it’s heavily affected by your ongoing diet. Do liberals and conservatives in this city tend to eat different foods? I think it’s well-established that conservatives have a more sensitive disgust reaction — they cite that in the paper — so does this mean they’re a whole lot less likely to eat strongly-flavored foods, and more likely to be put off by the people who do? (Although, does it matter? They don’t claim that the variant body odor was necessarily biological or due to some inherent thing about liberals vs. conservatives.)
Anyway. Regardless of whether it’s due to diet, or neighborhood, or age — they recruited half the study participants from college campuses, and half from the general population — the idea that liberals and conservatives may smell stinky to each other is kind of awesome, and also an excellent indicator that you should put on deodorant before heading to your next politically-mixed gathering.