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Fear, populism, and the geopolitical landscape: The “sleeper effect” of neurotic personality traits on regional voting behavior in the 2016 Brexit and Trump votes

Obschonka, Martin and Stuetzer, Michael and Rentfrow, Peter J. and Lee, Neil and Gosling, Samuel D. and Schmitt-Rodermund, Eva (2018): Fear, populism, and the geopolitical landscape: The “sleeper effect” of neurotic personality traits on regional voting behavior in the 2016 Brexit and Trump votes. Published in: Social Psychology & Personality Science , Vol. 9, No. 3 : pp. 285-298.

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Abstract

Two recent electoral results - Donald Trump’s election as US president and the UK’s Brexit vote - have re-ignited debate on the psychological factors underlying voting behavior. Both campaigns promoted themes of fear, lost pride, and loss aversion, which are relevant to the personality dimension of Neuroticism, a construct previously not associated with voting behavior. To that end, we investigate whether regional prevalence of neurotic personality traits (Neuroticism, Anxiety, Depression) predicted voting behavior in the US (N = 3,167,041) and the UK (N = 417,217), comparing these effects with previous models, which have emphasized the roles of Openness and Conscientiousness. Neurotic traits positively predicted share of Brexit and Trump votes and Trump gains from Romney. Many of these effects persisted in additional robustness tests controlling for regional industrial heritage, political attitude, and socio-economic features, particularly in the US. The “sleeper effect” of neurotic traits may profoundly impact the geopolitical landscape.

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