The Psychology Behind Why People Like Donald Trump So Much

February 25, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Donald Trump delivering a speech
Photo credit: Michael Vadon/flickr (CC by SA 2.0)

Experts offer their two-cents.

Although many people didn’t take Donald Trump’s presidential announcement all that seriously at first, it’s clear that the GOP candidate has climbed his way to the top of the Republican party, drawing support from people all over the nation.

The businessman and former reality TV show star has made headlines with his controversial comments and radical proposals like building a wall along the US-Mexico border and banning all muslims from traveling to the United States.

Since a number of his comments have embodied xenophobia and sexism, many people find it extremely difficult to fathom how he’s built up so much genuine support.

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However, there’s a few basic things about human psychology that can make sense of the whole Trump movement.

According to Stanford University professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, decades of research show that charisma has more to do with an individual’s demeanor than what he or she is actually saying — and Trump is certainly a character.

"They're responding to dynamism, to force, to movement, to smiling, to facial expressions that convey authority," Pfeffer told Max Ehrenfreund at the Washington Post. Trump "does it with more force. He does it with more energy. Energy is contagious.”

Another driving force behind the psychology of liking Trump is that, as humans, we like simple. Simple makes sense. The world is chock-full of complicated issues, but Trump’s solutions and promises are extremely simple — for instance, how to deal with the complex illegal immigration problem? Build a wall.

"People like the idea that deep down, the world is simple; that they can grasp it and that politicians can't," John Hibbing, a psychologist at the University of Nebraska, told the Washington Post. "That's certainly a message that I think Trump is radiating."

Additionally, many people are fed up with the “political correctness” of the political establishment. Being “anti-PC” is one of Trump’s appeals because it makes people feel like he is “one of us” instead of an elite, overly-pretentious politician.

Another aspect of Trump’s appeal is that many people dislike immigrants, even if they wouldn’t outright phrase it in the same ways as Trump.

"Humans have a kind of tribal psychology," said Joseph Henrich, a biologist at Harvard University who studies human evolution. Specifically, humans tend to adopt the viewpoint of “us” versus “them” — if one group is getting more, then another group must be getting less. Humans have a difficult time understanding that two groups can benefit from something at the same time.

Furthermore, many people are simply desperate for a change. “It really isn't about Donald Trump. It's about the fact that many thought and believed President Obama was the ‘change’ that they wanted in 2008,” one voter wrote to The Atlantic. “Wall Street, the banks, and even illegal immigrants seem to be prospering more than the average American citizen. We are desperate.”

Another Trump supporter had a more blunt reason for believing Trump could be the man for the job: “I am of the belief that he is conceited and arrogant enough to avoid failing in front of the world at all cost.”

Alongside all of the various psychological forces driving Trump’s surprising popularity, some people like Trump for a more simple reason: pure entertainment.

“I'd vote for Trump, the candidate, purely for the comedic value,” another voter wrote The Atlantic. “In many ways, Trump is the ultimate comedic actor who never breaks character. We are all watching a mockumentary and I, for one, am not ready for the show to end quite yet.”

The reasons for liking Donald Trump may vary among voters, but one thing’s for sure: it will be an interesting presidential election, to say the least.

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