What is it about the left that keeps them from understanding why they lost last year’s election? They have no idea why so many Americans chose to vote for President Trump instead of Hillary Clinton. In an effort to help people “understand” Trump voters, Raw Story published a piece purporting to give a “psychological analysis” of those who voted for Donald Trump.
Raw Story refers to a review paper that was published in the Journal of Social and Political Psychology. In the study, UC Santa Cruz professor Thomas Pettigrew states that five psychological traits explain why people supported Trump: authoritarian personality syndrome, social dominance orientation, prejudice (of course), intergroup contact, and relative deprivation.
According to Raw Story, authoritarian personality syndrome is one of the traits that Trump voters possess. This syndrome is related 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.” People exhibiting this condition “display aggression toward outgroup members, submissiveness to authority, resistance to new experiences, and a rigid hierarchical view of society.
Raw Story claims this psychological trait is “more common among the right-wing around the world.” To support this assertion, the author cites a study entitled “The F Scale as a Predictor of Fascism: An Overview of 40 Years of Authoritarianism Research.” The F-scale is a personality test designed to measure fascistic beliefs in individuals. This study concluded that people on the right are more likely to lean towards authoritarian personalities. However, the F-scale has received its share of criticism.
The “Encyclopedia of applied psychology: A-E,” states, “Another major criticism is that the authoritarianism concept and the F-scale questions appear highly ideological.” It also states that “several studies showed problems with the construct validity of the F-scale, i.e., they doubt that the F-scale measures what it intends to measure.” There are several other criticisms of the personality test. In other words, the scale the author uses to prove his claim that authoritarian personalities are more prevalent on the right is suspect.
Social dominance orientation (SDO) is another term the author uses to describe Trump voters. SDO is characterized by “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.” In the piece, the author refers to Trump’s speeches where he supposedly makes “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).”
He also cites a 2016 study that found that the people who scored high on SDO and authoritarianism were Trump voters. Of course, he also mentions that the survey only examined 406 people, which is not a significant sample size. While it is certainly possible that some Trump voters exhibit a social dominance orientation, the author does not show evidence that this applies to most Trump supporters.
Of course, we cannot forget the role of prejudice when it comes to the people who voted for Trump. No self-respecting leftist publication would discuss Trump voters without portraying them as racist. In this regard, Raw Story does not disappoint.
While the author does concede that it is “inaccurate to say that every one of Trump’s supporters have prejudice against ethnic and religious minorities,” he still posits the idea that it “would be equally inaccurate to say that many do not.” He accuses the Republican party of using Richard Nixon’s southern strategy which involved peppering their speeches with “dog whistles” — code words that indicate racist views against minorities that only other racists would understand. In the article, he references Trump’s use of the words “rapists” and “murderers” to describe Mexican illegal immigrants. President Trump’s words in this instance were ill-chosen, but it does not mean that Trump voters are driven by racism.
Lack of intergroup contact is another supposed characteristic of Trump voters. According to the piece, contact with individuals who are outside of one’s own group “has been experimentally shown to reduce prejudice.” The author also claims that there is “growing evidence that Trump’s white supporters have experienced significantly less contact with minorities than other Americans.”
It might be tempting to believe that intergroup contact is a factor in this equation because so many live in rural areas with predominantly white populations. Business Insider indicates that while Trump did overwhelmingly well against Clinton with rural voters, he also won with voters who live in the suburbs. 35% of the electorate who live in the city also voted for Trump.
Lastly, relative deprivation is another trait that the author ascribes to Trump supporters. The author states:
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.
The article puts forth the idea that economics played a key role in people’s decision to vote for Trump. The author states that “some Trump supporters are simply angry that American jobs are being lost to Mexico and China.” The reason it is called “relative” deprivation is that the person experiencing this phenomenon feels as if they are being deprived of something to which they are entitled.
This theory might be the most accurate because many individuals who lost their jobs under the Obama administration voted for Trump. During the campaign, the president lambasted companies that outsourced their labor. He complained about jobs leaving the United States — and this was a message that resonated with many Americans.
The reality is that the people who voted for Trump have varying opinions. Some voted for him because he wasn’t Hillary Clinton. Others voted for him because of his stance on trade and foreign policy. Others were tired of the flawed policies of the left. Raw Story’s analysis ascribes certain psychological components to Trump voters that don’t adequately explain the reasons Trump won. Perhaps the simplest answers are sometimes the most accurate.