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A psychological analysis of Trump supporters has uncovered 5 key traits about them

Posted by on Aug. 4, 2017 at 12:21 PM
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In a recent review paper published in the Journal of Social and Political Psychology, Psychologist and UC Santa Cruz professor Thomas Pettigrew argues that five major psychological phenomena can help explain this exceptional political event.

1. Authoritarian Personality Syndrome

Authoritarianism refers to the advocacy or enforcement of strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom, and is commonly associated with a lack of concern for the opinions or needs of others. Authoritarian personality syndrome—a well-studied and globally-prevalent condition—is a state of mind that is characterized by belief in total and complete obedience to one’s authority. Those with the syndrome often display aggression toward outgroup members, submissiveness to authority, resistance to new experiences, and a rigid hierarchical view of society. The syndrome is often triggered by fear, making it easy for leaders who exaggerate threat or fear monger to gain their allegiance.

Although authoritarian personality is found among liberals, it is more common among the right-wing around the world. President Trump’s speeches, which are laced with absolutist terms like “losers” and “complete disasters,” are naturally appealing to those with the syndrome.

While research showed that Republican voters in the U.S. scored higher than Democrats on measures of authoritarianism before Trump emerged on the political scene, a 2016 Politico survey found that high authoritarians greatly favored then-candidate Trump, which led to a correct prediction that he would win the election, despite the polls saying otherwise.

2. Social dominance orientation

Social dominance orientation (SDO)—which is distinct but related to authoritarian personality syndrome—refers to people who have a preference for the societal hierarchy of groups, specifically with a structure in which the high-status groups have dominance over the low-status ones. Those with SDO are typically dominant, tough-minded, and driven by self-interest.

In Trump’s speeches, he appeals to those with SDO by repeatedly making a clear distinction between groups that have a generally higher status in society (White), and those groups that are typically thought of as belonging to a lower status (immigrants and minorities).

A 2016 survey study of 406 American adults published this year in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found that those who scored high on both SDO and authoritarianism were those who intended to vote for Trump in the election.

3. Prejudice

It would be grossly unfair and inaccurate to say that every one of Trump’s supporters have prejudice against ethnic and religious minorities, but it would be equally inaccurate to say that many do not. It is a well-known fact that the Republican party, going at least as far back to Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy,” used strategies that appealed to bigotry, such as lacing speeches with “dog whistles”—code words that signaled prejudice toward minorities that were designed to be heard by racists but no one else.

While the dog whistles of the past were more subtle, Trump’s are sometimes shockingly direct. There’s no denying that he routinely appeals to bigoted supporters when he calls Muslims “dangerous” and Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “murderers,” often in a blanketed fashion. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a new study has shown that support for Trump is correlated with a standard scale of modern racism.

4. Intergroup contact

Intergroup contact refers to contact with members of groups that are outside one’s own, which has been experimentally shown to reduce prejudice. As such, it’s important to note that there is growing evidence that Trump’s white supporters have experienced significantly less contact with minorities than other Americans. For example, a 2016 study found that “…the racial and ethnic isolation of Whites at the zip-code level is one of the strongest predictors of Trump support.” This correlation persisted while controlling for dozens of other variables. In agreement with this finding, the same researchers found that support for Trump increased with the voters’ physical distance from the Mexican border.

5. Relative deprivation

Relative deprivation refers to the experience of being deprived of something to which one believes they are entitled. It is the discontent felt when one compares their position in life to others who they feel are equal or inferior but have unfairly had more success than them.

Common explanations for Trump’s popularity among non-bigoted voters involve economics. There is no doubt that some Trump supporters are simply angry that American jobs are being lost to Mexico and China, which is certainly understandable, although these loyalists often ignore the fact that some of these careers are actually being lost due to the accelerating pace of automation.

These Trump supporters are experiencing relative deprivation, and are common among the swing states like Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. This kind of deprivation is specifically referred to as “relative,” as opposed to “absolute,” because the feeling is often based on a skewed perception of what one is entitled to. For example, an analysis conducted by FiveThirtyEight estimated that the median annual income of Trump supporters was $72,000.

If such data is accurate, the portrayal of most Trump supporters as “working class” citizens rebelling against Republican elites may be more myth than fact.

Bobby Azarian is a science writer with a PhD in neuroscience. His research has been published in journals such as Cognition & Emotion and Human Brain Mapping, and he has written for The Atlantic, The New York Times, BBC Future, Scientific American, Psychology Today
by on Aug. 4, 2017 at 12:21 PM
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Replies (1-10):
by Ruby Member on Aug. 4, 2017 at 10:00 PM
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This makes sense.

by Ruby Member on Aug. 4, 2017 at 10:44 PM
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Yep. To a tee!
by Ruby Member on Aug. 4, 2017 at 11:47 PM
1 & 2 ate not true clinical diagnoses.
by Emerald Member on Aug. 5, 2017 at 5:11 AM
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Hateful and nasty once again.
Snooty democrats keep believing this shit and Trump will be reeelected again.
Keep insulting Americans that didn't vote for a woman that some of you supported and you will keep losing elections for years to come.
by Platinum Member on Aug. 5, 2017 at 5:16 AM

6) they're morons

7) they're morons

8) they're ignorant

9)  they're morons

10)  did I mention they are morons?

by Silver Member on Aug. 5, 2017 at 6:40 AM
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It's amazing that the poor and uneducated red state voters support the GOP. A party that doesn't give a shit about their own base.
by Lee on Aug. 5, 2017 at 8:23 AM
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From all appearances...NEITHER party gives a shit about their own base. 

Quoting owl0210: It's amazing that the poor and uneducated red state voters support the GOP. A party that doesn't give a shit about their own base.

by on Aug. 5, 2017 at 8:29 AM
It seems pretty accurate .
#3 and #5 really hit the nail on the head! And I'm not surprised at those who disagree with it!
by Ruby Member on Aug. 5, 2017 at 4:48 PM
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Quoting billsfan1104: Hateful and nasty once again.

It is the finding of a study.   It isn't just someone's opinion.

You can claim that the way the study was carried out was invalid, and say why.   But just denying the conclusions of the study isn't a productive approach.

by Ruby Member on Aug. 5, 2017 at 4:52 PM

Image result for Thomas Pettigrew

Thomas Pettigrew is currently Research Professor of Social Psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He has also taught at the Universities of North Carolina (1956-1957), Harvard (1957-1980), and Amsterdam (1986-1991). In addition, he has been a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (1975-76), the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (1984-85) and the Research Institute for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity at Stanford University (2001-2002).

With more then 500 publications, Professor Pettigrew has been at the forefront of research on racial prejudice for a half-century. An expert on black-white relations in the United States, he has also conducted intergroup research in Australia, Europe, and South Africa. He served as President of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues in 1967-1968 and later received the Society's Kurt Lewin Award (1987) and twice its Gordon Allport Intergroup Research Award (1987 and 2003). Other awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship (1967-68) ,the Sydney Spivack Award for Race Relations Research from the American Sociological Association (1979), the 2002 Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society for Experimental Social Psychology, a Senior Fulbright Fellowship (2003-2004), the 2009 Panunzio Award of the University of California for outstanding research by an Emeritus Professor, and the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award of the International Academy for Intercultural Research. In 2008, he received an honorary doctorate from Philipps University in Marburg, Germany. In 2010, Pettigrew received both the Harold Lasswell Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society of Political Psychology and the Ralph White Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence. The Sociological Practice and Public Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association presented Pettigrew with the William Foote Whyte Distinguished Career Award in 2011. The following year the Society for Personality and Social Psychology honored him with one of its first Lifetime Career Contribution Awards. In 2014, he received the Cooley-Mead Award - the highest social psychological award of the American Sociological Association. In 2016 the American Sociological Association presented him with the Cox-Johnson-Frazier Award for lifetime contributions to the study and advancement of American race relations. And, in 2017, he was awarded the Centennial Medal of the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in recognition of significant contributions to society, 2017.

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