Picture the narcissist: Egotistical, vain, deeply convinced (often in the face of contrary evidence) of his or her exceptional, central role in the workings of the world. Now, looking around the realm of politics, who does that sound like?
There’s an easy, orange-hued answer, but vanity and entitlement can seem almost like a job requirement for politicians. What about the people who vote for them, though? Are narcissists more likely to be Democrats or Republicans—do they skew blue or run red?
It’s a tricky, polarizing question, and one researchers took up in the runup to the 2016 US presidential election. Their recently published study examined the personality profiles of 750 Americans taken days before the vote, looking for relationships between narcissism and political ideology.
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First, they found that both sides are equally narcissistic; narcissists are as evenly distributed between the two political parties as they are in the general population. That’s perhaps not terribly surprising—you’d expect political affiliations to roughly reflect the broader public. But the researchers noted that different aspects of narcissism correlated with identifying as a liberal or as a conservative.
Narcissism is multi-faceted. It has negative aspects—lack of empathy, outsized self-regard—but also some positive aspects, including charisma and self-sufficiency. The authors noted that two aspects, entitlement and exhibitionism, appear related to political alignment. Those participants with high levels of entitlement tended to skew conservative; they opposed taxes, gun control, and were in favor of restricting immigration. In other words, they voted to protect their entitlements, and against other groups they believed might infringe upon them.
Exhibitionism, on the other hand, correlated with liberal political positions on taxes, gun control, and immigration. And people scoring high in exhibitionism tended to identify strongly with the Democratic party, less so than those who had similar beliefs but were less exhibitionist. Unlike the entitlement-driven respondents, exhibitionism-driven respondents were vocal in their beliefs and party affiliation.
There are some limits to the study. It may not fully represent the American public, for one, and it relies on self reporting. The authors note, however, that narcissists have proven quite comfortable with outing themselves: Earlier research shows that agreement with the phrase “I am a narcissist,” for instance is a pretty good indicator that someone is a narcissist. (The new study also fits with previous research showing a complex relationship between narcissistic traits and political leanings.)
Bottom line: narcissists exist throughout the political spectrum. The real difference lies in how narcissistic traits correlate with political beliefs, and that’s a relationship researchers are still untangling.
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