With the elections having come and gone, we have all looked around and come up with our own conclusions of how and why Donald Trump won as the Republican representative. Despite committing political suicide several times and the scandals surrounding his campaign, Trump has come out on top, wining the votes of the working class with the majority.
Voter demographics shed some light into the trend of his success with 52% of the population possessing no college degree with a close following of those with a college degree (43%). The trend within the data showed 72% of white males with no college degree voting for Trump and 45% of white females, but what was far more interesting was the minority groups such as Latino turnout which was at a record high that suggested the rudimentary conclusions of race and gender was not what motivated this win but rather perhaps economic motives were at the forefront. The central themes within this past election has been the economic success of Donald Trump, with this fact being referenced throughout his campaign.
It can be argued that the logic behind Donald Trump’s win is at the core of the American dream. The disparaging of the urban and rural has made a dream of equality and opportunity for all a nightmare. While the formula of working hard and thus achieving is one that has been tried and tested, in the climate of the 21st century and the onset of globalisation, prosperity is more abstract and the means more complex. A persona like Donald Trump currently estimated at a net worth of 4.5 billion USD seemed to shine like a beacon for the disgruntled working classes and having seemingly made it in an increasingly globalist world he appeared as an ideal leader.
With the promise to improve the economy of the US along with a disregard for political correctness, he represents a return to the past, or the “good old days”. Economically, he promised to benefit those of the working class in areas that once relied upon resources that boomed prior to globalisation; the name of the game being “Make America Great Again”: the slogan repeated into the minds of the public.
The American people took him as a leader, attributing a greater accuracy to the opinion of this authority figure rewarding his prosperity with power, hanging on to every word and rhetoric: this is the very definition of authority bias.
Authority bias is a form of conformity that has been a major area of research for early psychology theorists. Conformity is the change of our behaviour to match the responses and/or actions of others and is a systematic effect of being social animals.
The most famous example of research into this kind of cognitive bias was observed in Milgram’s (1963) study into human obedience. In this experiment participants were recruited from the public and lead to believe that they would be taking part in a memory task. Participants were placed in a role of either “teacher”, given the task to distribute shocks which increased in intensity from 15 Volts, to 450V in 15V intervals; and another individual was tasked as being the learner. The learner would receive shocks if they failed to recall the learned words correctly in 15V shock intervals. The teachers were deceived into believing they were interacting with a real learner but instead this was a confederate pre-recorded responses and reactions. What ensued was the insistence to increase the magnitude of shocks of 300V to 450V, which would be fatal for humans at the insistence of the researcher with the added stimuli of confederates crying out in agony and begging for mercy.
Milgram concluded that individuals were willing to commit violent acts if there was an appropriate authority figure in place. This experiment (along with the Zimbardo Prison experiment) existed as an argument for the dismal nature of human conformity and has been taken as a means to explain figures such as Hitler and the propagation of Nazi ideals; and most recently has been associated through media with Donald Trump.
Throughout his campaign, Trump promoted sexist, anti-LGBT, anti-immigration rhetoric, and has resonated with his chosen audience; sparking a small rise in extreme-alt right and other established groups such as the KKK. While it would be easy to conclude that humans are designed to follow leaders, seemingly an implicit bias concluded by Milgram and Zimbardo, credit must be given where credit is due and it is increasingly made clear that the decision making process explicitly involves conscious decision making. While authority bias is a means to shift autonomy, logic is required in what seemingly appears to be sheep following a leader blindly. Examples of this can be found within the Milgram’s study which details the distressed reaction of the teachers when making the decision to administer shocks (Milgram, 1963). This shows the very conscious process that manifested physiologically through sweating, nervous laughter and arguing to avoid the situation (Burger, Girgis &Manning, 2011). It was through the insistence to continue and thus the perceived importance of the task and what it would mean overall that lead to the actions being continued (Reicher & Haslam, 2011). Additionally, a number of participants refused to continue on with the task altogether (Milgram, 1963;1965)
The voters for Trump believe that the end justifies the means and what may appear to be authority bias as an unconscious bias might be a misinterpretation of behaviour. While media promoted the idea that the voters were uneducated and insane, psychologically, this cannot be. Instead, Trumps discretions are simply being consciously ignored because the way he is perceived represents a solution to a bigger issue.
Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67, 371-378.
Reicher SD, Haslam SA (2011) After shock? Towards a social identity explanation of the Milgram ‘obedience’ studies. Brit J Soc Psychol 50: 163–169.
Milgram S (1965) Some conditions of obedience and disobedience to authority. Hum Relat 18: 57–76.
Burger JM, Girgis ZM, Manning CM (2011) In their own words: explaining obedience to authority through an examination of participants’ comments. Social Psychological and Personality Science 2: 460–466.