Opinion

Donald Trump supporters think about morality differently than other voters. Here’s how.

By Jonathan Haidt and Emily Ekins

The 2016 presidential campaign is among the most unusual and confusing in many years, but moral psychology can help us make sense of what is going on.

By Jonathan Haidt and Emily Ekins

How on Earth can anyone vote for that ... [fill in the blank]? This is a question some Americans ask during every presidential primary race, but this year our mutual incomprehension feels especially intense. A year ago, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush were expected to be the frontrunners, but now a senator from the far right (Ted Cruz) and a political neophyte from no known political zip code (Donald Trump) have come in first and second among Republicans in Iowa, taking more than 50 percent of the vote between them. On the Democratic side, an avowed socialist essentially tied with Clinton.

Political scientists and commentators have a standard toolbox they use to explain elections, including variables such as the state of the economy, changing demographics, and incumbency fatigue. But this year, the standard tools are proving inadequate. Experts are increasingly turning  to psychology for help. A recent article in Politico was titled "The One Weird Trait that Predicts Whether You're a Trump Supporter." It argued that the psychological trait undergirding Trump's popularity is authoritarianism — a personality style characterizing people who are particularly sensitive to signs that the moral order is falling apart. When they perceive that the world as they know it is descending into chaos, they glorify their in-group, become highly intolerant of those who are different, and feel drawn to strong leaders who promise to fix things, and who do not seem shy about using force to do so.

But now that Trump has lost in Iowa, there is increasing interest in the moral and psychological profiles of those who support other candidates. Iowa entrance polls showed that Cruz took the lion's share of voters who said it was most important to elect a candidate who shares their values. But what are those values, exactly? Is that just code for "evangelical Christian?"

Read full article as published on Vox.com.

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Jonathan Haidt is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership.