08. Neuroscience

Why did Hillary Clinton Lose the 2016 Election?

November 11, 2016

In the aftermath of the U.S. election, many are shocked, while others are delighted and positive about the country’s future. Numerous articles wrongly predicted that democrat Hillary Clinton would be triumphant over republican Donald Trump. So you may be asking yourself, how could have the predictions been so inaccurate? Why did it turn sour for Hillary?

Disgust with the Status Quo

One theory is that the election results point to a revolt against the political establishment. Unfortunately, Hillary is perceived as the quintessential personification of that establishment. For some, she became the face of America’s broken politics. And, people were disgusted with the status quo and all its accouterments, which is severely unlucky for Hillary. Evidence suggests that the emotion of disgust influences our deeply held political intuitions and moral beliefs.

Why is this the case? In essence, basic human emotions are essential for our survival. They motivate us to do good things and keep us away from doing bad things. Fear, for instance, prevents us from engaging in extremely risky behavior. Similarly, disgust also offers us protective benefits, such as keeping us away from things that might poison us or make us ill.

An interesting feature of disgust is also how it works through association. For example, if one disgusting thing touches a clean thing, that clean thing becomes disgusting, not the other way around. Throughout history, this rhetoric has been used to convince somebody that an object or an individual or an entire social group is disgusting and should be avoided. Look no further than the genocides that occurred in Germany and Rwanda, and the Jim Crow laws in the United States.

Political Conservatism and Disgust Sensitivity

Interestingly, in past studies conducted by psychologists, it was revealed that more politically conservative people were easier to disgust. In addition, there also seemed to be a relationship between voting behavior and disgust sensitivity. For example, in regions where people reported high levels of disgust sensitivity, McCain got more votes. So it not only predicted self-reported political orientation, but actual voting behavior. It also showed that those who were more disgust-sensitive were also much more opposed to gay marriage, homosexuality and pretty much a lot of the socio-moral issues in the sexual domain.

It turns out, that when people are feeling disgust, their attitudes shift towards the right of the political spectrum, towards more moral conservatism as well. So, did the disgust towards the political institution seal Hillary’s fate? Donald Trump was able to persuade enough voters that he could fix America’s problems. As a businessman, and not a politician, he was seen as the ultimate outsider – a protest candidate.

Authenticity and Trust Issues

In truth, a lot of people never quite warmed to Hillary. For many, she did not inspire trust, and that was not simply among republicans. In addition, many perceived her to lack authenticity and sincerity; she was not relatable. Perhaps her biggest downfall was that in a year when so many Americans wanted change, she appeared to offer more of the same. So, maybe disgust did play a role in who people voted for. Or, maybe it didn’t. But, it’s always interesting to consider how emotions influence us to make decisions, even when that decision is supposed to be wholly rational.

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