BOCA RATON, Fla. — Narcissism can make people hard to tolerate, but throw in a strong dose charisma and suddenly there’s something appealing and even, for many, inspiring. That’s, at least, a plausible explanation as to why the 2016 election turned out the way it did, a new study finds.
Researchers from Florida Atlantic University argue that while many presidents have shown narcissistic traits in the past, voters are more willing to support them when they’ve got a highly charismatic personality that complements their overall vision. It was those positive characteristics, as perceived by voters in 2016, that may have pushed Donald Trump to victory over Hillary Clinton.
“What we find in the 2016 presidential election is charisma appears to counterbalance the negative effects of a narcissistic personality in people’s perceptions of a leader and going ahead and voting for that person,” says Dr. Ethlyn Williams, associate professor of management at Florida Atlantic University and co-author of the study, in a university release.
Williams and her collaborators examined the results of surveys given to voters two weeks and one week before Election Day in 2016. In all, 426 respondents answered questions about leadership and their evaluations of Trump and Clinton. Based on the researchers’ analysis, the team found that narcissism and its attributable charisma were accurate predictors of voter choice, and that attributed charisma to a leader balances out perceived narcissism. Voters who support a candidate will often look beyond their negative leadership qualities and vote for those they perceive to have redeeming leadership qualities and values.
The study also found that when voters attribute charismatic qualities to a candidate who they view as holding similar values, they’re able to back that candidate despite their narcissistic tendencies.
“Narcissism is negatively related to perceptions of charisma in this sample and negatively related to voting for the candidate in this sample. Yet still we see strong positive relationship between charisma of that person and voting for that person. So clearly charisma makes a difference,” says Williams.
The authors hope to study participants’ views down the road to find out how supporters view Trump and how narcissism may affect their overall views of his performance as president.
“That long-term effect, what people feel they’re getting from the leader over time, will determine how they judge the leader,” concludes Williams. “So, we’re not there yet, but our early research suggests that those people who view Trump as being self-serving will evaluate his performance more negatively. While people who view him as doing good things for the country will view him more positively; and that’s human nature.”
The full study is published in the August 2018 edition of the journal Personality and Individual Differences.