Fear and anxiety played key role in getting Donald Trump elected in 2016, will it work again in 2020?

Fear and anxiety played key role in getting Donald Trump elected in 2016, will it work again in 2020?
Donald Trump (Source: Getty Images)

The presidential election of 2016 continues to be a subject of research, thanks to the rise of Donald Trump. Although the two traditional rivals -- the Republican and Democratic parties locked horns for the top post, it was the individual in Trump who made that very election unique. And according to a recent study, regions that saw voters with more neurotic personality traits were more likely to back the maverick Trump in 2016.

These regions included the battlefield states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin besides the Midwestern ‘Rust Belt’. 

The massive survey, conducted by researchers from Queensland University of Technology, Ilmenau University of Technology, University of Cambridge, the London School of Economics and Political Science, Melbourne University and The University of Texas at Austin, covered more than three million Americans who were asked 44 questions about habits and dispositions, according to The Atlantic

The researchers came to learn that in the area known as the ‘temperamental and uninhabited region’, people tended to be more neurotic and moderately open and there, Trump ‘went five-for-five in sweeping’ during the primaries.

A mixed impact on the researchers

The findings had a mixed impact on the researchers. For instance, Sam Gosling, co-author and a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told DailyMail.com over email that while neuroticism has been found to be historically associated with a tendency to vote for liberal candidates and positions, he was not surprised because neuroticism is also considered in terms of sensitivity to dangers and what might go wrong. “So people who are neurotic should be particularly susceptible to campaigns that play on fears,” he said. 

The then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets fans tailgating outside Jack Trice Stadium before the start of the Iowa State University versus University of Iowa football game on September 12, 2015 in Ames, Iowa. Several GOP candidates campaigned at the event. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“Of course, other parties could have used a fear-based campaign too (e.g., you could imagine liberal causes using a fear-based campaign drawing on the dangers of climate change) but they didn’t. In the 2016 U.S. Presidential election those places high on neuroticism happened to have a big impact on the election,” Gosling was further quoted as saying.

The authors of the study also compared each county’s level of neuroticism to whether they voted for Trump in the 2016 election and whether they had backed the Republicans earlier as well. “This particular configuration of traits depicts the type of person who is reserved, aloof, impulsive, irritable, and inquisitive,” Jason Rentfrow, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge, said in the study.

Martin Obschonka, a psychologist and associate professor in entrepreneurship at Queensland University of Technology and the study’s lead author, said: “The models traditionally used for predicting and explaining political behavior did not capture an essential factor that influenced people's voting decisions in 2016. Under normal conditions these traits have no influence, but in certain circumstances, widespread anxiety and fear in a region have the potential to profoundly impact the geopolitical landscape.”

The researchers dug deep to understand the personality data of 417,217 British and 3,167,041 American participants. They also went through the regional levels of fear, anxiety and anger and they were then compared to the traits that are traditionally correlated with a political orientation to understand if there was any link between regional psychological traits with the voting behavior that was seen in 2016. 

It was found that regions that have higher levels of anxiety and fear went for Trump and when compared with Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee of the 2012 election, it was seen that Trump made a substantial gain in 2016. 

In 50 counties in the country, there was a nine percent rise in the Republican votes between 2012 and 2016. 


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 Regions voters anxiety anger fear higher tendency to vote for Trump in 2016 study