In an empirical study carefully designed to attract media attention, Danish political scientists claim to have uncovered a link between muscle mass and socialist leanings. Their conclusion: Strong wealthy men tend to oppose redistributing wealth, while strong poor men favor it.
From the study:
Because redistribution policies have the effect of shifting resources from higher- to lower-SES individuals, the results indicate that physically stronger males (rich and poor) are more prone to bargain in their own self-interest, supporting proposals for redistribution if they are poor and resisting those proposals if they are rich.
The study frames the results as evolutionary psychology. The argument isn’t that genes determine upper body strength. It’s that men–not women–are hard-wired to equate their own strength with an ability to get their way. The stronger we get, the more selfish we get.
But does the study actually demonstrate that? A lot of questions have been raised about its methods, from measuring upper-body strength through bicep self-assessment, to a “rich” and “poor” population both drawn from students at UC Santa Barbara (annual tuition and fees: $32,343 for California residents). But even if you buy the connection of wealth, strength, and redistributive politics, the evolutionary explanation leaves a lot to be desired.
The researchers themselves say as much. While the paper spends plenty of time spinning evolutionary theories of aggression and “asymmetric war of attrition,” in the end it admits: “the findings of this study are silent with regard to the precise proximate variables that mediate between upper-body strength and psychological traits.” In other words, strong muscles may cause strong tax policy views, but nobody knows why.
To suggest just one possibility, which runs in the opposite direction as the strong-man (not necessarily to be confused with “straw-man”) self-interest theory: Maybe the people who have acquired strong political views are more likely to have the free time and aggression necessary for weight training, by far the most likely source of large biceps–which, it should be noted, don’t mean much about how strong you are–on college campuses.