Have you ever wondered how Donald Trump became America’s 45th president? Or, if the international news is more your thing, have you questioned how the United Kingdom thought it wise to remove themselves from the European Union in the monumental Brexit vote?
Thankfully, we’ve reached as close to an answer that we can expect, courtesy of a series of studies from academics at the universities of Kent, Warsaw and Maryland. The paper’s authors conducted the international research to shed light on recent populist successes, which include Donald Trump’s head-scratching presidency and Brexit.
The research, published in Populism as Identity Politics found that people are more likely to vote for populist ideologies (or issues about the everyman) if they feel disadvantaged in society. Realistically, this would include just about everyone, no matter their privilege (be it gender, race, income, etc.). On top of that, the longer one felt disadvantaged, the more likely they were to support populist movements. To make the obvious connection: these attitudes ultimately influenced people to vote for Trump and Brexit.
It makes sense when you think about it. Voters who believe they are disadvantaged are going to choose in favor of something or someone that both acknowledges their existence and also promises to remedy what’s plaguing them. Researchers hypothesize this mindset, when fuelled by populist leaders, reinforces a “defensive and destructive” national perspective. They explain that narcissistic beliefs about greatness (hm, remind you of anyone?) offer a way for people to compensate for feeling worse off.
In a way, it’s the political version of bragging about yourself to a date to remedy your self-loathing. Researchers believe their results may also help explain why you can link populism to prejudicial attitudes and behaviors.
Some people [are having regrets about their decision, like the Trump voters we profiled who are trying to figure out what’s next. Trump’s approval rating in the Gallup poll is incredibly low at 35 percent, just one percent higher than his lowest rating since being elected. It’s no surprise then that one in eight Trump voters wished they could change their vote.
“Populists combine anti-elitism with a conviction that they hold a superior vision of what it means to be a true citizen of their nation,“ researchers wrote. "We expected support for populism to be associated with national collective narcissism—an unrealistic belief in the greatness of the national group, which should increase in response to perceived in-group disadvantage.”
Research conducted earlier this year showed something similar, backing up that white working-class voters primarily voted for Trump to curb their cultural anxieties, not to relieve economic pressure, a post-election analysis by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic found. These voters were more likely to prefer Clinton over Trump, but Evidence suggests financially troubled voters in the white working class were more likely to favor Clinton, but felt that cultural issues that Trump was campaigning, like the deportation of illegal immigrants and feeling like their country has become unfamiliar, were more critical.
Such consistency in two very recent studies (one national, the other international) is something you’d be foolish to dismiss. The mission in politics is simple: you want to appeal to as many voters as possible. And by preying on something negative that we all have in common (in this case, our perceived disadvantages) was something that proved a significant motivator in political matters. Clinton celebrated a powerful, more unified America while Trump romanticized the past, leaving voters thirsty for the nostalgia of an America that may have never existed.