Higher narcissism may be linked with more political participation

October 4, 2020

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Higher narcissism may be linked with more political participation

DT, we know, is a certifiable narcissist who doesn’t believe in democracy if there is the remotest chance of his losing an election.

But how typical is he of politically active people? Most of us would say not at all, most do not have one of the “evil triad” personality disorders (narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism).

Well, surprisingly, that may be a wrong assumption.

As we know, a politically engaged electorate is key to any thriving democracy, but not everyone participates in elections and other political activities. Fascinating new research has found that people who are narcissistic may also be more politically active.

In a series of studies performed in the United States and Denmark, researchers found that people with higher levels of narcissism—a trait combining selfishness, entitlement and a need for admiration—were also more likely to participate in politics. This could include contacting politicians, signing petitions, donating money, and voting in midterm elections, among other things.

The leader of the research team said the findings may give insight into how and why certain political candidates succeed in elections.

What the researchers say: "It is hard not to think that those high in narcissism taking part in the political process appears to have some role in the current state of our democracy," he said. "If people who are more interested in their own personal gain and status take a greater part in elections, then we can expect candidates to emerge who reflect their desires—narcissism begets narcissism." Oh! No! DT begets more DTs? Well, there is his cabinet for starters.

According to the researchers, previous work has shown that higher levels of narcissism are linked with behaviors that could be harmful to functioning democracies—for example, shifting focus from civic responsibility toward a person's own self-interest and gratification. Higher narcissism in the general public has been connected with more conflict and civic strife, in addition to less cooperation, compromise, and forgiveness. This certainly makes sense looking at the current US situation. Those who refuse to wear masks—thereby endangering their fellow citizens may be narcissists according to a report in the Washington Post.

The lead author further commented that in the current political climate in the U.S., more people are becoming politically active—but this mobilization is not evenly distributed among personality types.

For their studies, the researchers gathered a variety of data. They conducted two nationally representative surveys: one in the U.S. and one in Denmark, with 500 and 2,450 participants in each, respectively. There was a third, web-based U.S. study with 2,280 participants.

In all three studies, participants were asked about their voting history and political participation, which included attending demonstrations or meetings, contacting politicians or the media, and donating money. Narcissism was measured with a questionnaire in which participants were asked to choose between two statements that could apply to them. For example, "I insist upon getting the respect that is due me" vs. "I usually get the respect that I deserve."

The researchers found that narcissism was associated with higher participation in early politics, like contacting decision makers and publicizing their opinions. People with higher narcissism were also more likely to vote in midterm elections. The researchers said that because people with higher levels of narcissism are literally speaking out more, their voices could be more likely to be heard.

Breaking the results down further, the researchers found that the traits of superiority and authority/leadership were related to higher participation. Self-sufficiency, however, was associated with less participation.

"The general picture is that individuals who believe in themselves, and believe that they are better than others, engage in the political process more," the researchers said. "At the same time, those individuals who are more self-sufficient are also less likely to take part in the political process. This means that policies and electoral outcomes could increasingly be guided by those who both want more but give less."

The lead author said that while it's difficult to pinpoint a solution, finding ways to increase political engagement among a more diverse electorate while reducing an overrepresentation of narcissism would be a good start.

"Successful democratic functioning requires trust in institutions, efficacy, and engagement in the democratic process," he said. "If those who are more narcissistic are the most engaged, and the political process itself is driving up narcissism in the public, in my opinion, the future of our democracy could be in jeopardy."

So, what? Amen to that. Taken all together the total number of people with one or other (or all three) of the “evil triad” probably number less than three percent of the population. It would seem from this study that this three percent is driving the rest of the 97% of us to a rather nasty destination.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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