AJPS Author Summary: Narcissism and Political Orientations

Author Summary by Peter K. Hatemi and Zoltán Fazekas

AJPS Author Summary: Narcissism and Political OrientationsPolitics and narcissism go hand-in-hand. The relentless trading of insults and scaremongering tactics that spew forth from politicians and political parties declaring that “your” needs are more important than others but are not being met because some group other than the one you “belong to” is to blame; and the sheer joy people experience from watching their favorite pundits degrade their opponents combined with hyper-polarized social media echo-chambers, puts narcissism on display and activates it in the public like no other vehicle can.  We now live in the post-truth age, the “Me Millennium” that promotes the self over society and the superiority of one’s ideas versus a plurality of voices, lacking in honesty and civility.

It is well known that politicians are among the most narcissistic members of society; Hillary Clinton’s Grandiose Narcissism and Donald Trump’s Vulnerable Narcissism are only two of the most high-profile and well-documented examples on an endless list. Surprisingly, however, we know almost nothing about how narcissism manifests in the political values of the general public.

We sought to shed some light on this relationship by conducting a nationally representative study of US citizens days before the 2016 US Presidential election. Despite rhetoric from politicians and the media, we found that those on the left and right are equally narcissistic. Nevertheless, those on the left and right differed in how their narcissism was expressed. This was not a case, however, of the more positive elements of narcissism, such as leadership and self-sufficiency, being assigned to one political viewpoint and the more negative traits such as superiority and exploitativeness being assigned to the other. Rather, between those on the left and right, we only found differences within the negative components of narcissism.

A higher sense of Entitlement is associated with more conservative views, and this association is strongest for immigration attitudes. It was not that Entitlement leads to being more Republican, however, but rather it appears to lead people away from supporting the Democratic party. On the other hand, Exhibitionism, also a maladaptive facet, is related to more liberal positions, and this relationship was strongest for being a Democrat.

These findings reflect many details about the 2016 election. Those who felt more entitled to certain benefits, in particular, those who were more concerned about illegal immigration, moved away from the left, while those whose voices appear the loudest about their entitlements and wanted others to recognize their values were more likely to self-identify as a liberal and Democrat. The mood of the voting public, certainly among the working class, was frustration at the lack of representation and benefits they believed they were due. This resulted in voting Republican in greater numbers. At the same time, mainstream media all but assured the public Hillary Clinton would be the next President. This over-represented voice of the left was partly responsible for polling discrepancies, where reports for Democratic support were exaggerated, while support for then-candidate Trump was under-reported. Overall, our results hint toward narcissism either reflecting or having a role in the rise of populism. Populism’s anti-establishment views focus on individualism, group superiority, and entitlement, rooted in identity-based politics that pit group needs over one another and say “look at me”, reflect the very dimensions of social narcissism.

About the Authors: Pete Hatemi is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Penn State University, and Zoltán Fazekas is a Post-doctoral Researcher at the University of Oslo University. Their research “Narcissism and Political Orientations” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.

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