New research from PLOS One suggests that Trump supporters may share some of the narcissistic traits that were exhibited by the former U.S. president himself during his 2020 re-election campaign. The study revealed that people who scored higher in the antagonistic and indifferent facets of narcissism were more likely to say they were voting for Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
Donald Trump’s leadership style was characterized by an exaggerated sense of self-importance and a disregard for others — two key characteristics of narcissism. While many psychologists have pointed out Trump’s narcissistic personality traits, little research has considered whether his supporters might have similar narcissistic tendencies.
Study author Matthew M. Yalch suggests that people with inflated self-images combined with a susceptibility to feeling undervalued might be attracted to Trump’s grandiose personality. In other words, people with narcissistic tendencies themselves might be drawn to Trump’s narcissistic persona, looking to defend their worth by identifying with his entitled and aggressive ways.
“Donald’s Trump’s presidency was chaotic, and seemed to bounce from one scandal/public outrage to another. During his presidency, I would often ask myself the question: what would make someone vote for him? I conducted this study to provide some answers to that question,” explained Yalch, an assistant professor at Palo Alto University.
In October 2020, Yalch conducted a study to examine whether certain aspects of pathological narcissism might predict the decision to vote for Trump in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. A total of 495 U.S. workers between the ages of 18 and 79 responded to a questionnaire asking them who they intended to vote for in the upcoming election. They also completed several scales measuring various aspects of grandiose narcissism (characterized by overt displays of egoism and aggression) and vulnerable narcissism (characterized by introverted self-centeredness and an inability to accept criticism).
Using a statistical technique called a principal components analysis, the researchers explored pathological narcissism as a hierarchy of related concepts. Each dimension within the hierarchy was then tested to see whether it could predict the intention to vote for Trump in 2020.
The results showed that self-centered antagonism and indifference to others were the two aspects of narcissism that best predicted intent to vote for Trump. This was even after controlling for a series of relevant demographic variables.
Yalch says these findings point to the grandiose aspects of narcissism being most strongly tied to the decision to vote for Trump in 2020. The researcher says this is unsurprising given the way Trump ran his 2020 campaign. While his 2016 campaign might have appealed to the vulnerability of voters, Trump’s aggressive position during his 2020 campaign likely appealed to the antagonistic facets of narcissism.
“By all accounts,” Yalch wrote in his study, “Donald Trump ran his 2020 reelection campaign and his presidency more broadly based on the dimensions of narcissism highlighted in this study: antagonism and indifference seem to have been guiding principles, both implicitly and explicitly.”
“Something a person should not take away from this study is that all Trump supporters are narcissists or that all narcissists voted for Donald Trump,” Yalch told PsyPost. “Instead, the main take-away is that even after party affiliation and other important variables are taken into account, aspects of narcissism on average made the intention to vote for Donald Trump in 2020 more likely.”
The study author notes that the findings shed light on the role of personality in political campaigning. Appealing to voters’ darker emotions might not be an effective tactic when running for an election, considering Trump’s loss of both the popular vote and the electoral college in 2020. “A platform rooted in animosity towards others can generate a substantial amount of angry enthusiasm (as was clear during the election and its immediate aftermath),” Yalch wrote in his study, “but may not be one that is convincing to the majority of people, at least not in a country as diverse as the U.S.”
“This study only considered aspects of pathological narcissism, but there is a broad range of other traits (pathological and non-pathological) that may influence voting,” he told PsyPost. “Future research could examine these traits.”
The study, “Dimensions of pathological narcissism and intention to vote for Donald Trump”, was authored by Matthew M. Yalch.