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5 Things This Election Revealed About Us

5 Things This Election Reveals About Us

Image Credit: CNN.com

While the 2016 Presidential election campaign was sadly divisive, it also provided a surprisingly clear window into the drivers of human behavior. Here are five important things we can learn about ourselves from how this election unfolded.

1. Basic Human Perceptions Drive Most of Our Behavior

Contrary to conventional wisdom, our willingness to vote for Clinton, Trump or any other candidate for President does not derive primarily from their specific policy positions or qualifications.  For instance, our recent study of over 1,000 US adults showed that nearly 70% of willingness to vote for either Clinton or Trump was driven by their general perceptions of each candidate’s “warmth” and “competence”.  By contrast, voter age, income, education and candidate familiarity explain only 7% of voting intent, as shown below.  So while political policies and issues do likely play some role, voting behavior can be reliably predicted from the perceived warmth and competence of each candidate alone. 
Drivers of 2016 Presidential Election Voting Intent

2. Our Perceptions Are Often Quite Different from Those of Others

Despite decades of exposure to both Clinton and Trump, voters have very different warmth and competence perceptions of each candidate, depending on their political party.  In fact, most of us would be surprised at how differently a diverse room full of people would describe the same political debate after viewing it together.  The reason is that we are all members of invisible social, economic and political tribes or social groups that define our identity and filter our perceptions. As a result, we often unwittingly draw conclusions about the warmth and competence of others that are more about our social filters than we realize.
Presidential Election Candidate Perceptions

3. We Frequently Attribute Ill Intentions to Rival Group Members

Whether we realize it or not, it’s human nature to assume that people outside our own social group have ill intentions toward us, especially if they are viewed to be members of a rival social group or tribe.  Psychologists refer to this as attribution bias. During evolution, there were many advantages to tribe membership and loyalty that enabled humans to survive harsh conditions and repel rival attacks.  While those primitive survival threats have long since been conquered, our human tendency toward contempt and distrust of outsiders remains.   As a result, our tribal nature frequently creates major barriers to collaboration and social progress.  For instance, consider how much less favorably voters view politicians from the opposing party relative to those in their own.

Perceptions of Opposing Party Politicians

4. We Are Easily Divided by Social Group Loyalty

Once we have aligned ourselves with a particular tribe or social group, it’s relatively easy for manipulative forces to fuel our negative perceptions of outsiders with rhetoric and accusations.  These are often designed to cement loyalty to the social group by amplifying potential threats and fueling contempt for rival group members.  Once each group has become entrenched in its position, facts and reason are readily dismissed as lies or half-truths created by the enemy.   In the current election environment, this polarization can be illustrated by the widely varying levels of admiration for previous Presidents among partisans.

Admiration for Previous US Presidents

5. Unconditional Loyalty Clouds Our Judgment and Does Us Harm

When our loyalty to a social group is so strong that it becomes unconditional, we lose the ability to think independently and make rational judgments.  Psychologists refer to this as confirmation bias. This is what many young adults in America observed during the 2016 Presidential election.  The discourse became so partisan, personal and irrational that they wanted no part of such a demeaning political process.  In fact, our recent study found that less than half of U.S. adults aged 18-24 intended to vote in the 2016 Presidential election, while nearly a third of all potential voters planned to abstain.  Clearly we are all worse off when this is the case.

Likelihood to Vote in 2016 Presidential Election

Download our full 2016 Presidential Election Research report at no cost here.

58 Comments

  1. Anonymous on November 3, 2016 at 1:18 am

    It would be enlightening to run portions of your poll through adult Canadians. Many of us have been following this election very closely but we have no U.S. party affiliations. Candidate perception varies widely up here and yes, we also have our share of conspiracy theorists. It is frightening to see our political actions and reactions leaning towards the same dirty tricks that this U.S. election has exposed; a litany of untruths, skewed information and twisted facts presented to a public too lazy or too uneducated to investigate and dig for the facts.

    Not one, but two new investigations announced against one of the leading candidates in the final week leading up to the election…investigations that could have and should have been long since resolved. Why is the head of your national police force announcing a potential investigation without first finding out if there is enough information to even warrant that investigation in the first place and why is he getting away with attempting to influence the election?

    The U.S. calls itself the greatest nation on earth but the bedrock of your foundation is crumbling and this election has made that erosion very visible to the rest of the world. I don’t know how to fix your problems but I really hope someone does and please don’t say “Trump” is the answer. After following this endless election process, listening to all the candidates…including the “third party” ones, and watching the actions of those same candidates’ followers Donald Trump is the very epitome of all that is eating away at the very base of your society. Please wake up.

    • Charlotte from Canada on November 3, 2016 at 2:42 am

      Well said…I totally agree!
      Another Canadian who is closely following the U.S. election.

      • David Samida on January 16, 2017 at 7:18 pm

        yes but the east voted in Trudeau!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        • Mike L on January 16, 2017 at 10:01 pm

          The “east”? The Liberals won the highest percentage of votes and the most number of seats in all provinces and territories in Canada except Alberta and Saskatchewan.

          • John on January 16, 2017 at 11:51 pm

            Correct and the majority of the electoral seats in Canada exist east of the Manitoba border….



        • steve on January 17, 2017 at 2:36 pm

          a vast majority of the entire country voted for Trudeau. That’s basically how we pick our leader in a democracy

    • Chris Malone on November 3, 2016 at 11:56 am

      Thanks very much for your comment! One of the challenges we faced in designing this study in the US was creating a list of celebrities and politicians that are well known to the entire adult population. You would be surprised at how widely awareness of these individuals varies. For instance, only about 65% of American adults are familiar with Warren Buffett and Lebron James. So it might be an even greater challenge in Canada. In any case, its certainly possible to design a similar study for Canada, but would probably need to include well-known Canadian celebrities and politicians along with the better known American ones.

    • Robert Murawsky on January 14, 2017 at 2:15 pm

      As a 79 year old Canadian, who has been watching U.S. Elections since Truman, I cannot believe how split the American people are, after the election. It is very scarey. My main concern is when your President takes on California regarding sancuary cities there will be a vote in that state and the out come God forbid will be, they will suceed from the union and that will be the start of a horrible thing. We as your neighbour to the north always respected your decision who you voted in as president and we do today. You do not have to agree with your elected candidate but you, should and must respect the position and the White House. God Bless America.

    • Ron on January 15, 2017 at 8:18 am

      They did wake up! Now it is time for Canada to wake up!

      • Jim Primeau on January 16, 2017 at 12:07 am

        True.

      • David Samida on January 16, 2017 at 7:19 pm

        yes we should!!!!!

    • dc on January 16, 2017 at 7:53 pm

      You must be a liberal the party that doesn’t lie about anything

    • Anonymous on January 17, 2017 at 2:37 am

      Amen.

  2. Grampy farmer on November 3, 2016 at 8:23 am

    Well put!! One thing is clear and that fact is they tried picking on a very tough lady!! Changes are always needed to grow a democracy but not like this shit show?

    • Chris Malone on November 3, 2016 at 11:57 am

      Thanks for your comment, Grampy!

      • Marilyn Lantaigne on November 5, 2016 at 10:35 am

        I have a number of U.S. friends who i love, but sure would not talk politics with them!!! Especially right now!!!!!!!

    • Shawn on January 14, 2017 at 8:39 am

      Really! lol

  3. Uncle Benny on November 3, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    Ask any Republican voter today and they will tell you that Trump was not their first choice. Me included. Why did he beat everyone in the Primaries and why will he beat Hillary. Because he tells it like it is. Not the same old bullshit from all the Washington elites. He speaks a language we all understand. That’s why Bernie was so popular. Forget the hair the looks or what he said 30 years ago we need a change now

    • Karth on November 4, 2016 at 10:26 am

      I beg to differ, somebody like Donald Trump whom you say speaks what’s on his mind, it might sound very appealing when you say it that way. But as a rule of life there are things which should be said and things that are known which should not be said, especially important first placing the facts amd verifying them to prove what he’s saying. Donald Trump has said much stuff which would not make sense even to himself if he analyzed them later, we know he doesn’t like to analyse himself or take advice from people who analyse it. If that’s the kind of person whom you want to be sitting in the position of President. It could end up being a disaster. See what ever happens it doesn’t effect me I’m in India, but as a person who likes to know what’s happening outside, it doest worry me to see how many Americans have been thinking inside the box and not even taken the effort to step outside and see the big picture of what’s going on.

      • Marilyn Lantaigne on November 5, 2016 at 10:39 am

        Good reply!!

      • Barbara on January 15, 2017 at 12:50 am

        There is something very very wrong with Trump the man. I fear for our world but most of all I fear the attempts to normalize the abnormal because we do t know what else to do !

    • mike fitz on January 14, 2017 at 2:42 am

      Trump does not tell it like it is but how you would like to hear it he says one thing one day and says he did not say it the next day I hope he can help America but doubt it

    • steve on January 17, 2017 at 2:38 pm

      he obviously does not tell it like it is. He tells it like he wishes it was, like he wants it to be, or like he hopes it could be. Any idiot can see that he lies constantly.

  4. Sally Daugherty on November 3, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    This is a very enlightening article. The 4th point really struck home. As a lifelong Republican who cannot stomach the thought of a Trump presidency, I realized that my newfound alliance with the Hillary camp is affecting my down ballot decisions. I will do some careful research on the rest of the ticket before Tuesday so that I made my decisions in the proper context.

  5. Anonymous on November 3, 2016 at 5:19 pm

    I’m in the UK and I totally agree with the anonymous Canadian. We are all watching this election closely, here in England, and all over the world. I know you haven’t got a great choice facing you, but to choose a president who thinks it’s ok to sexually harass women is a step too far, for a nation supposedly leading the western world. I only hope America wakes up and smells the coffee, before its too late!

    • Shawn on January 14, 2017 at 8:41 am

      Good News! They woke up and did not vote in a woman who enabled a rapist and who attacked rape victims. Your wish came true.

      • joan ford on January 14, 2017 at 4:36 pm

        no they didn’t vote for a woman who enables a rapist but a person who feels he can grope any female as he please & nothing done about..whats up with that???

      • Ed Arsenault on January 14, 2017 at 7:43 pm

        Bad news . They elected an accused rapist , sex abuser who ridicules disabled persons and war heros

      • Barbara on January 15, 2017 at 12:55 am

        Now there you go a perfect example of something taken out of context and very poorly researched but nevertheless justifiable reason for voting in a rapist! Hello

  6. Margaret E VITEK on November 3, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    Sorry,l beg to disagree. My extended family is English and Canadian, tho my brother, his wife and adult children and my adult children and me are Americans. I have found that other countries UNIVERSALLY want a Democrat as Prez of USA, EVEN IF they are Conservative in voting in their homelands.

    • Anonymous on November 5, 2016 at 11:51 am

      That is because the Democrats give all the other countries our money, and they don’t want the flow of money to stop.

      • Jojo on January 14, 2017 at 9:37 pm

        I would be interested in knowing how much foreign aid you think the USA provides to the UK, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, etc.

        • Sam Taylor on January 15, 2017 at 1:16 pm

          Canada? You can’t be serious

          • Mike L on January 16, 2017 at 10:22 pm

            Sam Taylor, I’m not sure who you’re responding to when you say “Canada? You’re serious” but over 80% of Canadians said in a poll taken before the election that they would have voted for Clinton. If you’re replying to the last comment, Canada was mentioned as part of a list of countries whose citizens would have voted for Clinton but who do not receive any foreign aid from the United States.



      • steve on January 17, 2017 at 2:39 pm

        That’s obviously not the reason they want a Democrat. Did you even think about your response for a second?

  7. Dan S Brown on November 3, 2016 at 8:14 pm

    This election is driving Canadians crazy!
    Vote Hillary if you want to remain an American.

  8. Anonymous on November 4, 2016 at 5:40 am

    FEC violations should disqualify them both. Rnc and DNC broke election laws. Why don’t you enforce truth justice and the american way. No need to choose the lesser evil. Jill Stein first good choice since jfk.

  9. Siti on November 4, 2016 at 10:05 am

    Surely there’s a provision in the U.S. constitution which states that if both presidential candidates are unsuitable to be Commander in Chief; Trump facing an allege rape charges in Dec and Hillary under FBI investigation, surely President Obama’s term can be extended till all issues have been resolved. No matter, what happens after the election, the USA will never be the same again!

  10. Diane on November 4, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    I think it’s very ironic that most of the comments display the biases described in the article. People on both sides have become so entrenched in their support of their candidate that they cannot even hear what other people are saying. Accusations just get more and more vehement and the language just devolves into name-calling. I think everyone at this point is committed to Trump or Hillary and should stop trying to change other people’s minds. It’s a waste of time at this point.

    • Chris Malone on November 4, 2016 at 4:10 pm

      You nailed it, Diane! Hopefully, this article helps explain how we find ourselves in this situation. My hope is that better understanding ourselves will be the first step to finding common ground with each other.

    • Shawn on January 14, 2017 at 8:44 am

      Exactly. Well stated.

    • Pat on January 15, 2017 at 8:08 am

      Thank you Diane!!!! Finally, someone rational has spoken. You hit the nail right on the head.

  11. Gwesolosky@gmail.com on November 5, 2016 at 1:01 am

    Hillary exudes warmth & competence.
    Warmth ? Competence ?

    • John on November 5, 2016 at 7:48 am

      Forget what Hillary exudes. What does Trump exude? Remember how he treated his fellow Republicans during the primaries, the same ones that are sucking up to him now due to loyalty to the party? People tend to forget now that his focus is on Hillary. Independent fact-checking studies have shown that he lies far more than Hillary (like it’s not even close), yet some choose to look at the speck in her eye and ignore the plank in his, saying things like God can change him and he tells it like it is (not). Of course, those who support Trump will play the “liberal media” card and talk about “conspiracy” theories. There is a reason much of the media speak unfavorably of Trump, but loyal Republican supporters will have none of it. He talks about putting his opponent in jail? How can he make such a statement? Are people not innocent until PROVEN guilty in the USA? Do you not have a protocol of justice in the USA or doesn’t it apply to Trump? Can you imagine the conspiracy theory Trump would have woven if the FBI announced something that has no proof or conclusion in the last weeks of the campaign. Funny how one person’s emails are hacked and the Trump’s isn’t. Could it be the Russians affecting the election? This is indeed a sad, sad time for democracy.

    • Chris Malone on November 5, 2016 at 8:50 am

      You can download the full results of our study here: http://fidelum.com/us-celebrity-politician-brand-warmth-competence-study/. The headline is that neither Clinton nor Trump are viewed favorably overall, and the reason is that views of them both are very polarized, dragging down their average. However, Bill Gates and Ellen DeGeneres seem to be admired by pretty much everyone, regardless of political affiliation.

  12. Roberta Histed on November 5, 2016 at 9:37 am

    Your analysis of perceptions that influence voters’ choices matches my own observations. It’s because few people vote with their heads that politicians go for the emotions. Why bother putting forward policies and explanations of how you will implement them when, for most voters, they carry no weight. Also, if the candidate appeals to his/her emotions, then the voter thinks s/he is on their side and will be very upset when, after getting into office, said candidate doesn’t live up to expectations. The business of choosing your representatives to govern in your name must be treated more seriously. Since electing lleaders begins in elementary school, that’s the place to begin the education re the folly of choosing a representative based solely on popularity.

  13. Anonymous on November 5, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    I agree and disagree with this article. There is a lot more going on than just “lesser of the two evils” and voter loyalty and swaying of votes. Canadians are looking at this whole “reality tv show” on the news, and are in shock at the level how people are not only swayed but conditioned slowly. I get it, Americans are tired of the status quo, and how things are not changing…government after government, president after president. Simply put: You like the establishment and figure the government will eventually get there…vote Hillary. You want change and something different…vote Trump. I use to look the United States of America and really believed it was a great nation…but after watching how many Americans are actually voting Trump… America is still a great country with uneducated and foolish people within its borders. Amercians…wake up… please. Make the politicians work for you, make them do their jobs. America is not great because the individuals are not. Empower and educate yourselves. If not for you… for your youth… who will inherit what you did not do for yourselves.

  14. Another Canadian watching the comedy series called the U.S. election on November 5, 2016 at 7:59 pm

    “reality tv show” Yes – the United States has lost it not only economically but the model for other nations to follow . Its time the United States to fix its own problem before tell other counties how to run their affairs Their constant interfering in other countries ,wars , proxy wars and inventing boogeymen to spead fear in the name of keeping the military industrial complex in business need to addressed and not have mud slinging matches as election debates .

    • N. McElhaney, Canadian on November 5, 2016 at 10:26 pm

      I agree with you. America will never be again that great country. They ignored their own people living in poverty, they have become more and more self consume with materialism and their ego have drove them far away from that dream everyone once inspired. Hatred and racism, self absorbed and lack of humility will bring Ameucan down. No matter who wins this elections their destiny is bleak and I feel sorry for the millions who are honest and true. God have mercy!

  15. Elaine Allison on November 6, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    Well if America goes down we will go with them. We are inextricably linked to the US in every way possible that really matters. And to truly pass judgment on the US please spend some time in other countries where the rule of law is non existent along with freedoms of any kind.

  16. James McCann on November 7, 2016 at 9:04 am

    While I agree with your analysis,I disagree with some of your conclusions..I believe that since neither of the two main candidates are likeable in general..then we are left with looking at what their presidency will do to our country…and do I vote to protect the constitution,do I vote for someone who wants more socialism…when we are 20 trillion dollars in debt already…do I vote for open borders..state funded abortion…a left leaning Supreme Court…or do I vote for intelligent control of our borders,a conservative leaning Supreme Court,less beaurocracy, a fair tax code,an end of Obamacare, and while this election cycle has been embarrassing to watch,I do believe we have learned something very important…we have citizens spread from one end of the political spectrum to the other..we have become polarized in a way that pales in comparison to what Pres Obama accomplished…I have never heard presidential candidates call half the country deplorables,or basement dwellers before…I pray we can pull this country back together to be the United States,it has been too long since it has been anything remotely close

    • Chris Malone on November 7, 2016 at 2:43 pm

      Thanks for your very thoughtful comment, James!

  17. Dan on January 12, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    Trump won on “Warmth and Competence”? You must be joking!

    • Chris Malone on January 13, 2017 at 3:06 am

      Actually, if you download our report, you’ll see that either Trump nor Clinton are viewed as warm or competent, but one of them had to win through party loyalty despite that.

  18. Anonymous on January 13, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    I confess a) I’ve not read the other comments; and b) I am Canadian born and raised so have no vote in the U.S. However, the “problem” of young voters being “turned off”by “partisanship” etc. interests me. My immediate observation is that they aren’t using “partisanship” (and its associated loyalty/affinity to a particular party/group) as a springboard for rebellion (read: change)…such that instead of refraining from voting, they would choose to vote emphatically in one position or another (i.e. to vote for whomever reflected their best interest/choice…rather than not vote at all. I have taught both my children — male (31) and female (36) that voting is a hard-won privilege — especially for women) — so therefore must be used whenever the occasion arises, and that the Voter must exercise discretion, wisdom and thoughtfulness before exercising his/her vote.

  19. Roger on January 14, 2017 at 2:22 pm

    As a Canadian who followed your election, one of the “reasons” given for voting for Trump appeared to be that “he tells it like it is”. How on earth do you reconcile that with him changing his tune often as quickly as half an hour after he uttered it?

    Do you not Think and Cross Reference?

    In our election a year ago, a candidate for whom the election was his to lose, Lost because in the last few weeks he continually changed his tune to fit his audience And We Noticed It.

    Get Real!

  20. Janice on January 15, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    It’s interesting that most comments here are from Canadians (as am I). We have no allegiance to either your Republican or Democratic parties and can be somewhat less partisan in our observations.

    While the results of this study apparently tell us what moved the American Electorate, I think #2 explains why the majority of your cousins in the “Great White North” are so shocked and appalled that Donald Trump is about to be sworn in as the next leader of the United States of America? Note that I did NOT call the US the greatest nation on earth, nor its President the leader of the “Free” world – such arrogance – so “braggadocious”! The rest of the world does not see you that way, no matter how many times you tell yourself you are. (while I think I won the life lotto by being born Canadian, I personally think the Dutch deserve those titles for reasons other than money and power)

    Even your closest friends and allies to the north are wondering how we missed seeing such a “YUGE” aspect of the collective American personality. I sincerely hope there is nothing more sinister lurking beneath that we also missed.

  21. Gary Horsnall on January 16, 2017 at 2:09 pm

    Plain and simple for me friends the last minute interference by the FBI directly led to Trump’s victory. It was simply the icing on a very toxic campaign of lies and deciet.

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