Worldview defence and self-determination theory explain the return of racial voting: Evidence from the 2016 US election

European Journal of Social Psychology

Authors: Prof. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve Dr. Mark Fabian

Mark Fabian, Robert Breunig and Jan-Emmanuel De Neve

We use self-determination (SDT) and worldview defence theories (WDT) to explicate the psychological roots of identitarian voting in recent US, UK and EU elections. We test our theory using the 2016 US election as a case study, data from a representative sample of nearly half a million Americans, and a measure of racial animus derived from Google search data. We find that worry has a strong and significant positive association with Trump’s vote share, as predicted by WDT. However, this is reversed in counties with high levels of relatedness—one of the three basic psychological needs emphasised by SDT. The positive relationship between racial animus and Trump also loses significance once an interaction between racial animus and relatedness is introduced. These results imply that identitarianism is driven at least in part by a desire for in-group affiliation emerging out of worldview defence and unmet basic psychological needs.

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