New findings from the magazine Psychological, social and personality sciences they suggest Trump supporters are simpler and happier than Biden supporters. A textual analysis of the written narratives of US citizens revealed that Trump supporters used more positive, less cognitively complex language and suggested a simplistic and categorical way of thinking.
Evidence from the field of political psychology tends to suggest that conservatives are simpler than liberals. But more recently, studies have suggested that rigid, categorical thinking lies at both ends of the political spectrum. Researcher Jo Ann A. Abe set out to investigate this link between political orientation and cognitive-affective style by analyzing the psycholinguistic models of US citizens.
Abe collected narratives written by a demographically diverse sample of 1,518 men and women who shared their thoughts on the upcoming 2020 US presidential election. As part of the same poll, participants also indicated which candidate they intended to vote for in the election (e.g. e.g. Biden, Trump, someone else, undecided or non-voting) and their level of enthusiasm for their favorite candidate. They also assessed their own personalities and the personalities of the two presidential candidates using the Ten-Item Personality Inventory.
The study author then used three computerized text analysis programs to study the participants’ narratives. Linguistic Inquiry and Word Counting (LIWC) was used to evaluate texts based on certain psychological categories such as categorical thinking. The Automated Integrative Complexity Scoring System (AICSS) was used to evaluate the complexity of thinking and the Sentiment Analysis and Social Cognition Engine (SÉANCE) was used to evaluate positive and negative affect.
The results revealed that extremely enthusiastic Trump supporters scored the highest in terms of categorical thinking and the lowest in terms of complexity. They also used more positive emotional language than Trump’s less enthusiastic supporters and Biden supporters. Biden supporters instead used words of more negative emotion, particularly words that reflect anxiety / fear and sadness, than Trump supporters.
Interestingly, the more respondents believed Trump was trustworthy / integrity, the lower the score in categorical thinking and the higher the score for dialectical thinking – the ability to see things from conflicting perspectives. This suggests that dedication to a particular candidate can cloud a person’s ability to think critically.
Abe notes that a 2021 study by Lee Drutman found devotion to Trump was associated with support for the “Stop the Steal” campaign. “A future study could examine whether extremely enthusiastic advocates who rate their preferred candidate based on trustworthiness / integrity and use plain, categorical language are particularly susceptible to falling prey to such false beliefs,” writes Abe.
Notably, while Trump’s dozens of enthusiastic supporters reflected more simplistic and categorical thinking, greater enthusiasm for both candidates was associated with less complexity and more categorical thinking.
Overall, the findings fit the assumption that conservatives are more rigid in their thinking than liberals, also supporting the theory that political extremists are more closed-in than moderates. However, there is some discrepancy between these findings and the results of previous studies, suggesting that language use varies widely depending on context (e.g., a narrative written for a study versus a tweet composed for a Twitter audience. ).
“Although the results of this study are broadly consistent with the idea that conservatives can be simpler and happier than liberals,” says Abe, “these results need to be replicated using the same methodology and different groups of candidates during another. election to demonstrate their generalizability “.
The study, “Cognitive-Affective Styles of Biden and Trump Supporters: An Automated Text Analysis Study,” was written by Jo Ann A. Abe.