News & Politics

Donald Trump's Voters Are Just as Selfish as You'd Suspect

New research offers fresh insight into the president's base.

Photo Credit: mikeledray / Shutterstock

The political corpse that is the 2016 presidential election continues to reveal its secrets. The newest revelation? Donald Trump's public supported an incompetent, ignorant bigot and possible traitor largely out of greed and selfish impulses.

In his new article, "Personal values and support for Donald Trump during the 2016 US presidential primary," published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, psychologist Ryne Sherman describes a "prototypical Trump supporter" as someone with "little interest in supporting social welfare programs," a "strong desire for power," a "strong desire to make money," various "concerns about personal and financial safety" and a "preference for strictly adhering to social conventions (i.e., order, structure, and following the chain of command)."

Sherman concludes that "values perceived to be shared with Donald Trump" were "a key driver of support" during the 2016 primaries. "This was true of both Republicans and Democrats, regardless of political ideology. Those who felt more similar to Trump in terms of his values were more likely to support him.”

These findings undermine any claim that Trump is somehow not a "real" Republican and thus not representative of what conservatives really believe or think:

Thus, this study also indicates that support for Trump was still largely associated with identifying as a Republican or Conservative. In other words, despite the presence of prominent “never Trump” Republicans, those who supported Donald Trump did indeed share highly overlapping personal values with Republicans and Conservatives, regardless of their own political attitudes. ... [T]hose who most closely matched the Donald Trump values profile, were just as likely to report being Republican or Conservative as they were to report supporting Donald Trump. In other words, the typical Trump supporter was very much Republican and Conservative.

These findings complement what is already known about Trump's voters, a group comprising tens of millions of white Americans who have joined what is effectively a political death cult, and apparently will not abandon their leader under any circumstances.

Trump's Republican and conservative supporters share the following attributes:

  1. They are more likely to be authoritarians and to embrace other extreme right-wing ideologies.
  2. They are racially resentful and hostile to nonwhites. This attitude is especially pronounced toward African Americans.
  3. They exhibit forms of toxic behavior associated with "collective narcissism."
  4. They believe that white people are the real victims of racism in America.
  5. They are political bullies who engage in social dominance behavior against individuals and groups they view as Other (nonwhites and immigrants, Muslims, gays and lesbians) or their political enemies (liberals and progressives).
  6. They hold sexist and misogynist views.
  7. Trump's most extreme and enthusiastic supporters in the "alt-right" feature the "dark triad" of personality traits: narcissism, a propensity for violence and a Machiavellian longing to manipulate others.
  8. They have little regard for America's democratic norms and institutions and believe that winning at all costs is all that matters—even if that means siding with a foreign power such as Russia to elect Donald Trump
  9. They live in regions of the United States where people are more likely to be unhappy, miserable and physically unwell and to suffer from the "depths of despair."
  10. They are attracted to Trump's threats of violence and his other antisocial behavior.
  11. They are anti-intellectual, disdainful of higher education and hostile toward experts.
  12. They possess a deep fear of death and social obsolescence which compels them toward "strong leaders," guns, superficial expressions of patriotism and Christian fundamentalism.
  13. They are extremely gullible and thus vulnerable to disinformation and other lies, as disseminated through the right-wing media.
  14. They seek simple answers to complex problems and are quick to reject new and inconvenient information.
  15. Either directly or indirectly, they want to hurt others whom they consider "un-American" or outside their tribe and community.
As we continue to try to make sense of the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath, it is important to keep in mind several other factors.

Trump's voters are not nihilists. They know what they want, and believe that Trump and the Republican Party are fulfilling their desires.

Trump's voters are conservatives on political steroids. They are the leading edge of a Republican Party and broader conservative movement that since the late 1960s has become increasingly extreme, reactionary, racist, and hostile to democracy.

There is nothing "normal" about Trump's political movement or his voters. This moment is a perilous outlier in modern American history. The country's democracy and future are in peril.

In total, Trump's voters are in a political, symbolic and emotionally transactional relationship with him and the Republican Party. Ultimately, Trump is likely to be re-elected in 2020 if his movement is treated as an aberration and his supporters are understood as "innocents" who were somehow tricked into supporting him.

Donald Trump has agency. His voters have agency. Together they have chosen a path that may bring lasting ruin to American society.


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Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can be found at He hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Follow him on Twitter.