Explaining Trump Voters: Conflict for the Heart of America


Who voted for Donald Trump? Following his Election Day victory over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton this seemed to be a common refrain. A refrain which continues to this day. How did every poll get it wrong? Who are these people who made Donald Trump president?

Statistically speaking it’s actually quite clear who voted for Donald Trump. An analysis of the numbers provides clear answers.

But this isn’t what the question intends. It’s not so much the “who” as the “why” of the who. Expressions of this “why” range from incredulity to outright anger. From inspection into individual and group motivations to outright denial. Yet no approach, description or motivation seems adequate to explain the phenomenon. Even first-hand explanations seem to make few in-roads.

However, new research may provide some answers.

A long-standing and common finding in social science research is the preference for masculinity. Politicians perceived as more masculine are viewed as more dominant and suited for leadership. This is especially true during times of conflict, real or perceived.




The fact that the majority of voters express a preference for masculinity is not surprising, especially as it relates to times of conflict. This corresponds to other findings in sociology, political science, psychology, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and genetics.

In short, men are viewed as more suited for politics than women and “masculine men” are seen as more attractive, more trustworthy and more competent than their peers.

At issue, however, are the reasons behind these findings. Past research has been unable to sufficiently distinguish between motivations for masculinity for the purposes of winning conflicts, solving conflict through cooperation, or both. An upcoming article in Political Psychology by Lasse Laustsen and Michael Bang Petersen attempts to identify the motivations behind this effect.

Utilizing evolutionary psychology as the basis for their theory and employing highly controlled experiments, natural experiments, and behavioral measures in order to test their predictions, Laustsen and Petersen believe they have found the intuition behind the effect.

Using approximately nationally representative surveys of 2,009 Poles and Ukrainians fielded during the Crimea crisis in 2014, the authors found:

that preferences for leader dominance are exclusively driven by the intuition that dominant leaders are better able to facilitate aggressive responses during social conflict.

In other words, voters want a leader who can help them “win”. This finding makes sense when applied to the context of Donald Trump’s victory. The majority of Trump supporters do not view ethnic and racial diversity positively. Additionally, they view immigration and immigrants as a threat to their well-being and security. They do not trust the media or the government.

Trump supporters feel left behind. They feel as though they have been in the middle of a conflict, they’re losing, and nobody was coming to help them. Then came Donald Trump.

During his campaign, following his election, and since he became the President he has promised his supporters better healthcarelower taxesless government intrusion, and perhaps most importantly, better security and protection from outgroups. He is returning the American government to the American people, or at least a very specific segment of the American people.

An article by Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris to be published in the June issue of Perspectives on Politics, “Trump and the Xenophobic Populist Parties: The Silent Revolution in Reverse”, describe this as a reversion to “survival values”.

Inglehart and Norris argue that populist anxiety stems from changing cultural norms. Declining real income, declining job security, rising income inequality, and an influx of immigrants and refugees combine with cultural changes to make some “white Americans feel that they have become ‘strangers in their own land.'”

Donald Trump’s victory has finally given this segment of the population the power they long felt had taken away. They feel as though they finally have a voice and have been empowered to let that voice be heard. The United States is once again for Americans.

They are fighting for their country. Trump supporters are fighting to survive. Donald Trump will help them win that fight. They voted for victory.

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