Sniffing out a soulmate: Politics & body odor

In the category of “strange but true,” a recent study in the American Journal of Political Science reveals that people find the body odor of individuals with similar political opinions more attractive than that of folks with opposing views.

In other words, conservatives and liberals don’t smell the same to potential mates, and people prefer the body odor of those who vote like they do.

What prompted such an insightful study, you ask?

Well, according to published reports, previous studies have shown that long-term mates are more similar when it comes to politics than anything else besides religion. So researchers, led by Brown University political scientist Rose McDermott, PhD, felt compelled to determine whether this is a purely socially driven phenomenon, or whether biology plays a role. Their study was given the catchy title, “Assortative Mating on Ideology Could Operate Through Olfactory Cues.”

To test the link between smell and political bent, McDermott and colleagues gathered 146 people from “a large city in the northeast United States” to participate in the study. They used a seven-point scale to establish where the participants fell on the political spectrum.

The researchers then sent 21 of these folks —10 liberals and 11 conservatives —home with fragrance-free soap and shampoo, and a gauze pad taped to their armpit. The pad-people were told not to smoke, drink, use deodorant or perfume, have sex, eat fragrant foods, sleep with people or pets, or hang out near strong odors.

The B.O.-infused armpit pads were returned to the researchers 24 hours later. Then, 125 participants sniffed the pads, cleansing their olfactory palate between whiffs with the aroma of peppermint oil. The sniffers then rated the attractiveness of each armpit sample on a scale of 1 to 5 – without ever seeing the people whose B.O. they were evaluating.

Turns out, the sniffers overwhelmingly preferred the natural odors of those who had political leanings similar to their own. In fact, one participant reportedly liked a B.O. sample so much she asked to take it home, while another (with opposing political views) thought that same sample was “rancid.” The man who provided the sample had a political bent similar to the woman who wanted to keep it, and opposite from the woman who found it offensive.

According to Dr. McDermott, “People could not predict the political ideology of others by smell if you asked them, but they differentially found the smell of those who aligned with them more attractive.”

In other words, sniffing someone’s armpit at a cocktail party won’t reveal who they’re likely to vote for but, if you like the way they smell, if might mean you’re simpatico when it comes to political party affiliation.

Is he an ass or
an elephant? Catch a whiff
before committing.

Now we boomers must apply these insights with a bit of caution. Why? Because some loss of taste and smell comes naturally as we grow older, especially after age 60.

Plus, other factors – some more common as we age – can also play a role in the loss of taste and smell. These include nasal and sinus problems, certain medications including beta blockers and ACE inhibitors (blood pressure drugs), dental problems, cigarette smoking, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and head or facial injury.

So if you’re in the market for a new partner, it might be more reliable to simply ask someone what his or her political leanings are – if that’s an important criterion in selecting a mate. It evidently wasn’t critical in the case of James Carville and Mary Matalin, or for some long-married friends of mine who cancel out each other’s votes in virtually every election (hmmm…come to think of it, one member of this couple does have some serious sinus issues…).

Politics makes strange
bedfellows. So sniff out who
you want to sleep with.

And just remember this: If you find yourself thinking (or saying) “You stink” to someone whose political ideology differs from yours, chances are you’re just being literal (not necessarily liberal – or conservative).

What do you think? Do you and your partner have the same political leanings? Do you like the way he/she smells? Does it make one bit of difference?



Roxanne Jones

About Roxanne Jones

By day, Roxanne Jones is an award-winning freelance copywriter specializing in health and medicine. She launched Boomer Haiku, a humorous blog about life as a baby boomer, in 2015, and a Boomer Haiku greeting card line in 2016 (available at 6 Maine stores; visit to learn more). Born and raised in Brunswick, she left Maine after high school (Class of 1971) and, after living in Massachusetts and California, came screaming back to her home state in 2006. She enjoys chardonnay, laughing at the foibles and frustrations of getting older, and contemplates plastic surgery to get rid of the wattle on her neck.