New findings from the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science suggest that Trump supporters are more simple-minded and happier than Biden supporters. A text analysis of written narratives from Unites States citizens revealed that Trump supporters used language that was more positive, less cognitively complex, and suggested a simplistic and categorical way of thinking.
Evidence from the field of political psychology tends to suggest that conservatives are more simple-minded than liberals are. But more recently, studies have suggested that rigid and categorical thinking is found at both extremes of the political spectrum. Researcher Jo Ann A. Abe set out to investigate this link between political orientation and cognitive-affective style by analyzing the psycholinguistic patterns of U.S. citizens.
Abe collected written narratives from a demographically diverse sample of 1,518 men and women who shared their thoughts on the then upcoming 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. As part of the same survey, participants also indicated which candidate they intended to vote for in the election (i.e., Biden, Trump, someone else, undecided, or not voting), and their level of enthusiasm toward their preferred candidate. They also rated their own personality and the personality of the two presidential nominees using the Ten-Item Personality Inventory.
The study author then used three computerized text analysis programs to study the participants’ narratives. The Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) was used to score the texts according to certain psychological categories like categorical thinking. The Automated Integrative Complexity Scoring System (AICSS) was used to assess complexity of thinking, and the Sentiment Analysis and Social Cognition Engine (SÉANCE) was used to assess positive and negative affect.
The findings revealed that extremely enthusiastic Trump supporters scored the highest on categorical thinking and the lowest on complexity. They also used more positive affective language compared to less enthusiastic Trump supporters and Biden supporters. Biden supporters instead used more negative emotion words — specifically, words reflecting anxiety/fear and sadness — compared to Trump supporters.
Interestingly, the more respondents felt that Trump was trustworthy/had integrity, the lower their score in categorical thinking and the higher their score for dialectical thinking — the ability to see things from competing perspectives. This suggests that dedication to a particular candidate may cloud a person’s ability to think critically.
Abe notes that a 2021 study by Lee Drutman found that devotion to Trump was associated with support for the “Stop the Steal” campaign. “A future study might examine whether extremely enthusiastic supporters, who rate their preferred candidate highly on trustworthiness/integrity, and use simple and categorical language are especially susceptible to falling prey to such false beliefs,” Abe writes.
Notably, although the scores of enthusiastic Trump supporters were the most reflective of simplistic and categorical thinking, higher enthusiasm for either nominee was associated with less complexity and more categorical thinking.
Overall, the findings fit with the assumption that conservatives are more rigid in their thinking than liberals, while also supporting the theory that political extremists are more close-minded than moderates. Still, there is some discrepancy between these findings and the results of previous studies, suggesting that language use varies widely depending on the context (e.g., a narrative written for a study versus a tweet composed for a Twitter audience).
“Although the results of this study are broadly consistent with the view that conservatives may be more simple-minded and happier than liberals,” Abe says, “these findings need to be replicated using the same methodology and different sets of candidates during another election to demonstrate their generalizability.”
The study, “Cognitive-Affective Styles of Biden and Trump Supporters: An Automated Text Analysis Study”, was authored by Jo Ann A. Abe.