A Complete Psychological Analysis of Trump’s Support

Supporters of Donald Trump at a rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Gage Skidmore

Whether we want to or not, we must try to understand the Donald Trump phenomenon, as it has completely swept the nation and also fiercely divided it. What is most baffling about it all is Trump’s apparent political invincibility. As he himself said even before he won the presidential election, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Unfortunately for the American people, this wild-sounding claim appears to be truer than not. It should also motivate us to explore the science underlying such peculiar human behavior, so we can learn from it, and potentially inoculate against it.

In all fairness, we should recognize that lying is sadly not uncommon for politicians on both sides of the political aisle, but the frequency and magnitude of the current president’s lies should have us all wondering why they haven’t destroyed his political career, and instead perhaps strengthened it. Similarly, we should be asking why his inflammatory rhetoric and numerous scandals haven’t sunk him. We are talking about a man who was caught on tape saying, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy.” Politically surviving that video is not normal, or anything close to it, and such a revelation would likely have been the end of Barack Obama or George Bush had it surfaced weeks before the election.

While dozens of psychologists have analyzed Trump, to explain the man’s political invincibility, it is more important to understand the minds of his staunch supporters. While various popular articles have illuminated a multitude of reasons for his unwavering support, there appears to be no comprehensive analysis that contains all of them. Since there seems to be a real demand for this information, I have tried to provide that analysis below.


Some of the explanations come from a 2017 review paper published in the Journal of Social and Political Psychology by the psychologist and UC Santa Cruz professor Thomas Pettigrew. Others have been put forth as far back as 2016, by me, in various articles and blog posts for publications like Psychology Today. A number of these were inspired by insights from psychologists like Sheldon Solomon, who laid the groundwork for the influential Terror Management Theory, and David Dunning, who did the same for the Dunning-Kruger effect.

This list will begin with the more benign reasons for Trump’s intransigent support. As the list goes on, the explanations become increasingly worrisome, and toward the end, border on the pathological. It should be strongly emphasized that not all Trump supporters are racist, mentally vulnerable, or fundamentally bad people. It can be detrimental to society when those with degrees and platforms try to demonize their political opponents or paint them as mentally ill when they are not. That being said, it is just as harmful to pretend that there are not clear psychological and neural factors that underlie much of Trump supporters’ unbridled allegiance.

The psychological phenomena described below mostly pertain to those supporters who would follow Trump off a cliff. These are the people who will stand by his side no matter what scandals come to light, or what sort of evidence for immoral and illegal behavior surfaces.

1. Practicality Trumps Morality

For some wealthy people, it’s simply a financial matter. Trump offers tax cuts for the rich and wants to do away with government regulation that gets in the way of businessmen making money, even when that regulation exists for the purpose of protecting the environment. Others, like blue-collared workers, like the fact that the president is trying to bring jobs back to America from places like China. Some people who genuinely are not racist (those who are will be discussed later) simply want stronger immigration laws because they know that a country with open borders is not sustainable. These people have put their practical concerns above their moral ones. To them, it does not make a difference if he’s a vagina-grabber, or if his campaign team colluded with Russia to help him defeat his political opponent. It is unknown whether these people are eternally bound to Trump in the way others are, but we may soon find out if the Mueller investigation is allowed to come to completion.

2. The Brain’s Attention System Is More Strongly Engaged by Trump

According to a study that monitored brain activity while participants watched 40 minutes of political ads and debate clips from the presidential candidates, Donald Trump is unique in his ability to keep the brain engaged. While Hillary Clinton could only hold attention for so long, Trump kept both attention and emotional arousal high throughout the viewing session. This pattern of activity was seen even when Trump made remarks that individuals didn’t necessarily agree with. His showmanship and simple language clearly resonate with some at a visceral level.

3. America’s Obsession with Entertainment and Celebrities

Essentially, the loyalty of Trump supporters may in part be explained by America’s addiction to entertainment and reality TV. To some, it doesn’t matter what Trump actually says because he’s so amusing to watch. With the Donald, you are always left wondering what outrageous thing he is going to say or do next. He keeps us on the edge of our seat, and for that reason, some Trump supporters will forgive anything he says. They are happy as long as they are kept entertained.

4. “Some Men Just Want to Watch the World Burn.”

Some people are supporting Trump simply to be rebellious or to introduce chaos into the political system. They may have such distaste for the establishment and Democrats like Hillary Clinton that their support for Trump is a symbolic middle finger directed at Washington. These people may have other issues, like an innate desire to troll others or an obsession with schadenfreude.

5. The Fear Factor: Conservatives Are More Sensitive to Threat

Science has  shown that the conservative brain has an exaggerated fear response when faced with stimuli that may be perceived as threatening. A 2008 study in the journal Science found that conservatives have a stronger physiological reaction to startling noises and graphic images compared to liberals. A brain-imaging study published in Current Biology revealed that those who lean right politically tend to have a larger amygdala — a structure that is electrically active during states of fear and anxiety. And a 2014 fMRI study found that it is possible to predict whether someone is a liberal or conservative simply by looking at their brain activity while they view threatening or disgusting images, such as mutilated bodies. Specifically, the brains of self-identified conservatives generated more activity overall in response to the disturbing images.

These brain responses are automatic and not influenced by logic or reason. As long as Trump continues to portray Muslims and Hispanic immigrants as imminent threats, many conservative brains will involuntarily light up like light bulbs being controlled by a switch. Fear keeps his followers energized and focused on safety. And when you think you’ve found your protector, you become less concerned with offensive and divisive remarks.

6. The Power of Mortality Reminders and Perceived Existential Threat

A well-supported theory from social psychology, known as Terror Management Theory, explains why Trump’s fear mongering is doubly effective. The theory is based on the fact that humans have a unique awareness of their own mortality. The inevitably of one’s death creates existential terror and anxiety that is always residing below the surface. In order to manage this terror, humans adopt cultural worldviews — like religions, political ideologies, and national identities — that act as a buffer by instilling life with meaning and value.

Terror Management Theory predicts that when people are reminded of their own mortality, which happens with fear mongering, they will more strongly defend those who share their worldviews and national or ethnic identity, and act out more aggressively towards those who do not. Hundreds of studies have supported this hypothesis, and some have specifically shown that triggering thoughts of death tends to shift people towards the right.

Not only do death reminders increase nationalism, they may influence voting habits in favor of more conservative presidential candidates. And more disturbingly, in a study with American students, scientists found that making mortality salient increased support for extreme military interventions by American forces that could kill thousands of civilians overseas. Interestingly, the effect was present only in conservatives.

By constantly emphasizing existential threat, Trump may be creating a psychological condition that makes the brain respond positively rather than negatively to bigoted statements and divisive rhetoric.

In this video, I explain this in greater detail, and offer a potential solution to the problem.

7. The Dunning-Kruger Effect: Humans Often Overestimate Their Political Expertise

Some who support Donald Trump are under-informed or misinformed about the issues at hand. When Trump tells them that crime is skyrocketing in the United States, or that the economy is the worst it’s ever been, they simply take his word for it.

The Dunning-Kruger effect explains that the problem isn’t just that they are misinformed; it’s that they are completely unaware that they are misinformed, which creates a double burden.

Studies have shown that people who lack expertise in some area of knowledge often have a cognitive bias that prevents them from realizing that they lack expertise. As psychologist David Dunning puts it in an op-ed for Politico, “The knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task — and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at the task. This includes political judgment.” These people cannot be reached because they mistakenly believe they are the ones who should be reaching others.

8. Relative Deprivation — A Misguided Sense of Entitlement

Relative deprivation refers to the experience of being deprived of something to which one believes they are entitled. It is the discontent felt when one compares their position in life to others who they feel are equal or inferior but have unfairly had more success than them.

Common explanations for Trump’s popularity among non-bigoted voters involve economics. There is no doubt that some Trump supporters are simply angry that American jobs are being lost to Mexico and China, which is certainly understandable, although these loyalists often ignore the fact that some of these careers are actually being lost due to the accelerating pace of automation.

These Trump supporters are experiencing relative deprivation, and are common among the swing states like Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. This kind of deprivation is specifically referred to as “relative,” as opposed to “absolute,” because the feeling is often based on a skewed perception of what one is entitled to.

9. Lack of Exposure to Dissimilar Others

Intergroup contact refers to contact with members of groups that are outside one’s own, which has been experimentally shown to reduce prejudice. As such, it’s important to note that there is growing evidence that Trump’s white supporters have experienced significantly less contact with minorities than other Americans. For example, a 2016 study found that “…the racial and ethnic isolation of Whites at the zip-code level is one of the strongest predictors of Trump support.” This correlation persisted while controlling for dozens of other variables. In agreement with this finding, the same researchers found that support for Trump increased with the voters’ physical distance from the Mexican border. These racial biases might be more implicit than explicit, the latter which is addressed in #14.

10. Trump’s Conspiracy Theories Target the Mentally Vulnerable

While the conspiracy theory crowd — who predominantly support Donald Trump and crackpot allies like Alex Jones and the shadowy QAnon — may appear to just be an odd quirk of modern society, some of them may suffer from psychological illnesses that involve paranoia and delusions, such as schizophrenia, or are at least vulnerable to them, like those with schizotypy personalities.

The link between schizotypy and belief in conspiracy theories is well-established, and a recent study published in the journal PsychiatryResearch has demonstrated that it is still very prevalent in the population. The researchers found that those who were more likely to believe in outlandish conspiracy theories, such as the idea that the U.S. government created the AIDS epidemic, consistently scored high on measures of “odd beliefs and magical thinking.” One feature of magical thinking is a tendency to make connections between things that are actually unrelated in reality.

Donald Trump and media allies target these people directly. All one has to do is visit alt-right websites and discussion boards to see the evidence for such manipulation.

11. Trump Taps into the Nation’s Collective Narcissism

Collective narcissism is an unrealistic shared belief in the greatness of one’s national group. It often occurs when a group who believes it represents the ‘true identity’ of a nation — the ‘ingroup,’ in this case White Americans — perceives itself as being disadvantaged compared to outgroups who are getting ahead of them ‘unrightfully.’ This psychological phenomenon is related to relative deprivation (#6).

study published last year in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found a direct link between national collective narcissism and support for Donald Trump. This correlation was discovered by researchers at the University of Warsaw, who surveyed over 400 Americans with a series of questionnaires about political and social beliefs. Where individual narcissism causes aggressiveness toward other individuals, collective narcissism involves negative attitudes and aggression toward ‘outsider’ groups (outgroups), who are perceived as threats.

Donald Trump exacerbates collective narcissism with his anti-immigrant, anti-elitist, and strongly nationalistic rhetoric. By referring to his supporters, an overwhelmingly white group, as being “true patriots” or “real Americans,” he promotes a brand of populism that is the epitome of “identity politics,” a term that is usually associated with the political left. Left-wing identity politics, as misguided as they may sometimes be, are generally aimed at achieving equality, while the right-wing brand is based on a belief that one nationality or race is superior or entitled to success and wealth for no other reason than identity.

12. The Desire to Want to Dominate Others

Social dominance orientation (SDO) — which is distinct from but related to authoritarian personality (#13) — refers to people who have a preference for the societal hierarchy of groups, specifically with a structure in which the high-status groups have dominance over the low-status ones. Those with SDO are typically dominant, tough-minded, and driven by self-interest.

In Trump’s speeches, he appeals to those with SDO by repeatedly making a clear distinction between groups that have a generally higher status in society (White), and those groups that are typically thought of as belonging to a lower status (immigrants and minorities). A 2016 survey study of 406 American adults published last year in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found that those who scored high on both SDO and authoritarianism were more likely to vote for Trump in the election.

13. Authoritarian Personality 

Authoritarianism refers to the advocacy or enforcement of strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom, and is commonly associated with a lack of concern for the opinions or needs of others. Authoritarian personality is characterized by belief in total and complete obedience to authority. Those with this personality often display aggression toward outgroup members, submissiveness to authority, resistance to new experiences, and a rigid hierarchical view of society. Authoritarianism is often triggered by fear, making it easy for leaders who exaggerate threat or fear monger to gain their allegiance.

Although authoritarian personality is found among liberals, it is more common among the right-wing around the world. President Trump’s speeches, which are laced with absolutist terms like “losers” and “complete disasters,” are naturally appealing to those with such a personality.

While research showed that Republican voters in the U.S. scored higher than Democrats on measures of authoritarianism before Trump emerged on the political scene, a 2016 Politico survey found that high authoritarians greatly favored then-candidate Trump, which led to a correct prediction that he would win the election, despite the polls saying otherwise.

14. Racism and Bigotry

It would be grossly unfair and inaccurate to say that every one of Trump’s supporters have prejudice against ethnic and religious minorities, but it would be equally inaccurate to say that few do. The Republican party, going at least as far back to Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy,” has historically used tactics that appealed to bigotry, such as lacing speeches with “dog whistles” — code words that signaled prejudice toward minorities that were designed to be heard by racists but no one else.

While the dog whistles of the past were subtler, Trump’s signaling is sometimes shockingly direct. There’s no denying that he routinely appeals to racist and bigoted supporters when he calls Muslims “dangerous” and Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “murderers,” often in a blanketed fashion. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a recent study has shown that support for Trump is correlated with a standard scale of modern racism.

This article was originally published at Raw Story. It has been reprinted here with the author’s permission. You can follow the author on his Twitter account.

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24 thoughts on “A Complete Psychological Analysis of Trump’s Support

  1. This article is hilarious! Perfect example of the depths these blind deniers of reality have been dipping to in order to justify their out-of-control targeted hatred for God, National Sovereignty, Rule of Law, Constitutional Rights & Common Sense! These attempts to shame Trump supporters grow more pathetic & ridiculous each day, and in fact have HELPED gain even more support as desperate DemonRatz gasp their last breaths before their curtain falls!

    1. I can’t get passed the first few paragraphs. First off, you CAN NOT diagnose a person without extensive one on one study. Two, there is NO evidence Trump or anyone colluded except on the other side. Three, I can’t condemn a Man for say, “grab them by the pu—y.” I’d have to condemn every Man I ever met! Just another baseless pile of drivel.

      1. He never said that he grabbed women there.
        He wad pointing out that the little golddiggers would let you do anything.
        Typical libtards inability to comprehend metaphers, similes etc. Remember the Skittles?

  2. The author definitely needs to spend some time with a shrink in order to come to terms with things, work on his delusional thinking, address his persecution complex, and most importantly do some serious soul searching as to why he hates America so deeply. For now he’s given us some incredible humor.

    Look, Bobby, you want to know why Trump’s support is so strong? Because the more ridiculous boneheads like you vomit out this crap, the more any sane and healthy person realizes that Trump must be a decent fellow. This entire article reads like a premium example of what psychological projection is all about. The author’s “desire to dominate others”, his “bigotry”, his narcissism, his “mental vulnerability to conspiracy theories” and most humorously of all, his pronounced suffering from The Dunning-Kruger “effect explains that the problem isn’t just that they are misinformed; it’s that they are completely unaware that they are misinformed, which creates a double burden.” I’m crying from laughing at this!


  3. As a staunch Trump supporter, I disagree with everything you have written about me. The #1 reason why me and my family support Trump is that he is fearless, as we are. We are fearless as we know what our future holds for us in heaven. Trump is fearless in that he is going to ‘drain the swamp’ in DC. Our nation is corrupt to the point of rot. Rot from our government has permeated down the line to state and local governments. DC politicians should not get away with corruption and crime, while the ‘average Joe’ has to atone for his crime.

    We believe in telling the truth all the time, even when it may hurt. Trump tells the truth and America listened. We knew he spoke truth about our nation’s economy as we felt it in our own homes and families.
    We felt the strain of increased prices and less work hours. We felt the strain of high gasoline prices and no rise in our hourly incomes for many years.

    Finally, we believe that Trump is not an elite snob as are most politicians. He doesn’t feel that he is any better than us. He is content to mingle and speak directly to low wage workers and poor families. Further, he has compassion for those who struggle financially and we felt it in his words on the campaign trail. Who wouldn’t want to elect a President that had our best interest at heart?

    Anyone who attempts to smear Trump supporters in any way, has a serious problem themselves. We don’t hurt other people, we mind our own business, we work hard, we love our families and wish the best for our country as when our country succeeds, we succeed!

    Your attempt to use psychology on us is actually a projection of your own evil inner soul. Perhaps you should fix yourself first, and then re-examine what Trump stands for and has done for our country. It would open your eyes to goodness and greatness for America if you sought help.

    You are spreading absolute lies in this piece and it does nothing but solidify our resolve and love for our Great President!! Our hearts and souls are clean, bright, good, and inspired by all the good that Trump has brought to America

  4. Im sorry but this is about dumb as hell. You trying to put this psychological twist on the reality that people just like Trump. Psychology is a bunch of garbage anyway. The truth is its an educated guess that anyone with commonsense could do.

  5. So your theory on how to heal the division is to accuse all Trump supporters of being unstable idiots thereby justifying open borders, violence in the streets by the “resistance” alias “Antifa”, attacks on children wearing MAGA hats. You are a piece of work, fellow. All you have done here is further the division and let America know you are an unstable idiot driven by the main stream media’s lies and propaganda. Last I checked this is a free country where people can vote for the person they want to be their President. For years 75% of American citizens have been ignored by the government. Big money has ruined America. We are not afraid to fight for our freedom from Globalists masters. You soon will find that you are on the wrong side of this fight. All I see is people who respect law and order standing up to a minority who are the real sufferers from “psychological illnesses that involve paranoia and delusions, such as schizophrenia, or are at least vulnerable to them, like those with schizotypy personalities”.

  6. Being the nurse that refers patients to see a psychiatrist I am referring you. This article is completely delusional. It shows signs of narcissistic psychopathy. Get help. Fast.

  7. Is this magazine satire?

    I cant believe anyone with half a brain would believe anything written in the article. The OP is trying to diagnose an entire group of people by supporting our president. Wanting our country to be successful isnt a mental disorder it called be patriotic and loving our nation.

    Another article about something you dont even know about. How many trump supporters were interviewed for this article?


  8. The is called bias confirmation. There is nothing racist about Trump or his followers. Islam is not a race its a religion with members of all races who believe in a book called the Quran. Would the author call the critics of Scientology racist or those attacking Christians daily?

  9. This is very entertaining.

    Can a psychologist have TDS and not know it?

    Here’s an idea for an article on psychology!

    A complete analysis on the psychology manipulation of the American public since Edward Bernays methodologies were applied through Operation Mockingbird and other government programs.

  10. Nice psychoanalysis of yourself here Narcissus. Maybe you’ll wake up when you hit the water.

  11. Perfect. This is anything but an analysis of who we are, but an in depth look at why the left is so out of touch with reality, an expose of their inner thoughts and why they do what they do. The left is adept at continuously dismissing human nature. They affix their shortcomings to others, while living in fantasy land. We don’t worship or merely support trump. He represents common sense, which we can support. What a breath of fresh air it has been just to have someone in the Oval Office who likes our country and believes that its citizens come first. We are not the drug using left, nor do we have any use for the Hollywood types, movie stars, singers, athletes etc., except when they show that they have some intelligence. When the deep state is supported by many of the big “state run” news networks who all “coincidentally” use the same exact wording at the same moment in time to describe what the right it doing, its a blessing to have an opposing voice to enlighten.

  12. Dear Dr. Bobby,

    Please read and then re-read this paragraph you wrote:

    “Studies have shown that people who lack expertise in some area of knowledge often have a cognitive bias that prevents them from realizing that they lack expertise. As psychologist David Dunning puts it in an op-ed for Politico, “The knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task — and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at the task. This includes political judgment.” These people cannot be reached because they mistakenly believe they are the ones who should be reaching others.”

  13. Wow as I read this I could replace the word “Trump” with the word “Obama” and it fit his liberal supporters to a T.
    I would suggest if “Big Easy Mag” ever wants to be anything besides something for me to lay on the floor so my puppy can diddle on it, to stop political writing and opine about Burbon St, Vodoo and the great ghost stories about “The Big Easy”!

  14. This article is a bunch of biased, fabricated crap designed to make non-Trump supporters feel justified in dismissing OUR PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP and the Q Movement. Because these Never Trumpers blindly follow the MSM narrative and refuse to think for themselves and research to find the truth, they will always be sheep led to the slaughter by propaganda designed to keep them and the descendants eternally enslaved by the system that they have been fooled into thinking is protecting them. I pray that all will eventually have their eyes opened to the truth and embrace true PATRIOTISM!

  15. I thought the psychiatric profession adhered to a strict code of NOT offering opinions WITHOUT evaluating the person(s) in person. This alone shows how ridiculous this article is. I was NOT a “fan” of Trump going into the 2016 election. I never watched “The Apprentice.” Did not like the man. What changed? Two things: His supporters are among the first to call him out on things they do not like (e.g., Syria bombing). They acknowledge his faults. They, unlike other political supporters, are not sycophants. For me, the tipping point was The Access Hollywood tape…when Trump said things that were awful. (But, were they worse than what Clinton (and his wife) did?) When senior members of the GOP told him to drop out of the race, THAT’S when I knew Trump was the right guy. He’s a threat to the establishment — BOTH sides of the aisle. He’s seldom “politically correct,” but — as I’ve learned — he’s almost always “correct.” Go back to your remedial psychology course (I’m sure its part of the gender studies curriculum). And maybe spend MORE time on the psychopathy of AOC, Omar, Tlaib, and THEIR followers; I’m sure you’ll have more than enough to work with.

  16. One more shining example of how the elite liberals are out of touch with reality. Apparently conservatives just run around all the time shouting, “This is MAGA country!”

  17. Unbelievable….you are actually analysing Trump supporters…is this a joke!! After Obama spent 8 years doing everything he could to destroy the U.S. morally and financially someone like Trump comes along that wants what’s best for the people and the country and you are scratching your head wondering why so many support him. You got more education but we obviously have more common sense than you. And…stop listening to the mainstream media…there are other things going in that you obviously have not educated yourself about.

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