Narcissistic rivalry indirectly linked to support for radical right populism, according to new psychology study

New research provides evidence that personality dispositions play a role in support for far-right political parties in Germany. The study, published in the European Journal of Personality, suggests that support for such parties is tied to a trait known as narcissistic rivalry.

“As a political psychologist, I’m interested in the long-term dispositions and short-term factors that affect vote choices, in particular for radical right populist parties,” said study author Sabrina J. Mayer, the head of Data and Methods at the German Center for Integration and Migration Research and a senior research fellow at the University of Duisburg-Essen.

“For years, Germany has been one of the few countries in Western Europe without a major right populist party. When the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) became successful after its foundation in 2013, most people explained its success with the refugee crisis. However, such a single causal explanation falls short.”

“So far, almost no one had looked at the political consequences of the various dimensions of so-called grandiose narcissism — narcissistic admiration and rivalry. Analysing the relationship between long-term personality traits such as narcissistic admiration and rivalry, political ideology and voting intentions for a radical right populist party allows for a better understanding of the underlying psychological mechanism at play.”

Narcissistic admiration is characterized by grandiosity and charmingness, while narcissistic rivalry is characterized by aggressiveness and asserting supremacy. People high in narcissistic admiration tend to agree with statements such as “I deserve to be seen as a great personality,” while those high in narcissistic rivalry tend to agree with statements such as “Other people are worth nothing.”

For their study, Mayer and her colleagues examined data from 2,827 individuals in the German GESIS Panel, a representative survey of the German population that assessed narcissism and political preferences, among several other factors. They found that heightened narcissistic rivalry was associated with heightened anti-immigrant sentiment, which in turn was closely associated with support for the AfD.

Narcissistic admiration, on the other hand, was negatively related to support for the AfD.

“Our findings show that narcissism is a multi-dimensional concept with two different underlying social strategies. It is in particular narcissistic rivalry that positively relates to support for a radical right populist party, indirectly via different attitudinal mediators such as anti-immigrant sentiment,” Mayer told PsyPost.

“Citizens with high levels of narcissistic rivalry vote for a radical right populist party because they are in general more conducive to its appeals. These citizens tend to devaluate others in their quest for supremacy, which relates well to the exclusionist stance towards out-groups and the exclusive mandate to represent the pure people of radical right populist parties.”

It is unclear, however, how well these results apply to political contexts outside of Germany.

“This is just a starting point for analysing the political consequences of the different dimensions of grandiose narcissism. As we only used cross-sectional data from a representative German panel study, we still need to test if our findings are time- and/or country-invariant. Furthermore, there might be other concepts that mediate the relationship between narcissism and vote choice, e.g. partisanship or candidate evaluations which we did not look at,” Mayer said.

The study, “The Two Dimensions of Narcissistic Personality and Support for the Radical Right: The Role of Right‐wing Authoritarianism, Social Dominance Orientation and Anti‐immigrant Sentiment“, was authored by Sabrina J. Mayer, Carl C. Berning, and David Johann.