When It Comes to Dating, Ambition Might Matter More Than Politics

I read through all 274 responses to a questionnaire I put out about how politics affects the dating lives of Americans under 30, and I took note of the fact that quite a few respondents used economic terminology when describing their romantic experiences. The term “scarcity,” in particular, came up more than once as a factor in dating experiences.

A very liberal man in New York who said he doesn’t even consider dating people who put “moderate” in their dating profiles said, “It’s probably unfair, but with such a deep left-leaning dating pool, there’s no scarcity mind-set forcing us to interact and test that assessment.” A very liberal woman in Denver had the opposite perspective because she felt that liberal men were scarce: “I was in a pretty bad relationship, but I stayed in it so long in part because I worried I wouldn’t find another man who is a Democrat,” she said.

I started thinking that when it comes to politics, people tend to be rational daters within their own romantic markets — and that when it comes to dating, the total number of liberals versus conservatives in the country doesn’t matter as much as where they are distributed, and whether there is a mismatch in smaller geographic areas.

Which is to say: If you live in a big city that has lots of people who are politically like-minded, you can afford to filter out the people who don’t align with you very closely. If you live in a smaller or more politically mixed environment, you can’t afford to be so choosy without severely restricting your dating pool. In Brooklyn, for example, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans about eight to one. So for daters in my own liberal bubble, it doesn’t matter nearly as much that in the country overall, men are more likely to be conservative — a New Yorker is unlikely to be dating someone who currently lives in Alabama or Wyoming.

(It’s worth noting here that some political scientists have pushed back on the notion that the political divide between young men and women is growing in the first place — there is evidence that both men and women under 30 have become more liberal over time.)

I ran my theory by a few academics who’ve studied politics and dating to see if there was any research that might explain or give more weight to my observations, with the understanding that the Times readers who replied to my questionnaire aren’t a demographically representative sample. The long and short of it is that in general, when people are looking for serious relationships, they want partners who are similar to them in a variety of dimensions — it’s called homophily.

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