American voters view Donald Trump as having traits associated with sadistic personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder, according to new research published in Clinical Psychological Science. The study found that even those who personally voted for Trump perceived him as having a highly disordered personality.
“The 2016 presidential election was widely described as one of the most polarizing elections in American history. My co-authors— Salwa Mansour, Shannon Matlock, Fred Coolidge— and I were interested in exploring how deeply this polarization extended,” explained study author Jacob A. Fiala, a psychometrist at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Aging Center.
“Did Trump supporters and Clinton supporters have wildly different views of Trump’s personality, or did they simply disagree in their value judgements of his personality? Clarifying this seemed to be an issue of key importance, as mental health experts were already beginning to conscientiously defy organizational restrictions and express their concerns that Trump’s personality traits could endanger the nation if he were to become president.”
In the study, 219 U.S. voters were randomly assigned to either view a 75 second compilation of videos that showed Trump in a positive light or a 75 second compilation of videos that showed Trump in a negative light. The participants then completed the Coolidge Axis II Inventory, which was used to assess their perceptions of Trump’s personality.
The questionnaire asked participants if they believed Trump held specific beliefs or was likely to engage in certain behaviors. “We did not just directly ask participants whether they thought Donald Trump was sadistic, narcissistic, or etc. Rather, participants were asked to complete a validated personality inventory, which asked them to rate how accurately numerous different statements like ‘He feels that he deserves special treatment from others’ described Donald Trump,” Fiala explained.
About 59% of participants reported voting for Clinton while reported 41% voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
Unexpectedly, the positive and negative videos did not appear to influence the participants’ perceptions of Trump. This could be due to the fact that they were already well exposed to his personality. The researchers collected their data during the week after the 2016 election.
But the researchers did find that both conservatives and liberals perceived Trump as highly sadistic, narcissistic, antisocial, and passive-aggressive, though liberals tended to rate Trump’s personality as more dysfunctional in general compared to conservatives.
“We found that, on average, those who voted for Trump and those who voted for Clinton did not have wildly different views of Trump’s personality. Both groups saw him as particularly sadistic and narcissistic, and even though the two groups disagreed about how prominently he displayed these traits, his own supporters still judged him to be more sadistic and narcissistic than 90% of people,” Fiala told PsyPost.
“So, my key take-away is that American voters were not as divided on whether Donald Trump displays narcissistic traits, for example, as they were on what it means to have a leader with narcissistic traits. What can be expected of a leader with narcissistic traits?”
Fiala noted that the founding director of the CIA’s Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior published a book in 2006 that outlined how narcissism was related to political behaviors.
“In our article, we briefly summarized some of the potentially harmful tendencies of narcissistic leaders, such as the following: defensively dismissing criticism and attacking critics, prioritizing the elevation of their public image over national well-being, refusing to admit they lack relevant knowledge instead of learning new information, making self-serving decisions instead of maintaining consistency with their stated beliefs, turning on anyone who stops singing their praises, and etc.,” Fiala explained.
“Frankly, it is hard for me to look at that list and believe it is a summary of a book chapter written in 2006 by the founder of the CIA’s Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior rather than an editorialist’s recap of last week’s headlines. I am left wondering whether Trump supporters would have been more concerned about the narcissistic traits they saw in him if they were aware that these traits tend to motivate these types of potentially disastrous behaviors, or whether they would be as accepting of such behavior if they understood it to be motivated by narcissistic traits.”
The participants observed Trump through the lens of the media, so it is unclear how well their assessments reflect his actual personality. But the researchers doubt that Trump’s media persona is significantly different than his real one.
“It is worth acknowledging that the goal of our study was to investigate voters’ perceptions of Trump’s personality, and not necessarily to study Trump’s personality. Still, we argue that there is good reason to believe the American voting public’s perceptions are, to some degree, an accurate reflection of Trump’s true personality,” Fiala said.
“For example, our results largely aligned with several other similar studies, as well as the published opinions of mental health experts. Nonetheless, we intend to replicate the study during the 2020 election cycle to determine whether the voting public’s perceptions have remained consistent over the last four years (as is expected with personality traits), or whether they have changed as voters have gained more exposure to his behavior. We also intend to investigate additional voter characteristics which may be related to support for Donald Trump.”
The study, “Voter Perceptions of President Donald Trump’s Personality Disorder Traits: Implications of Political Affiliation“, was authored by Jacob A. Fiala, Salwa A. Mansour, Shannon E. Matlock, and Frederick L. Coolidge.