UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Many believe the more people who participate in the political process, the better it is for a democracy. A new international study finds the character of both the politicians and the voters involved can undermine that process. Researchers say narcissistic people tend to take a more active role in politics and their views don’t necessarily put the country’s interests first.
Narcissism is a personality trait which combines selfishness, a feeling of entitlement, and a need for admiration. A series of three studies in the United States and Denmark reveals that individuals displaying higher levels of narcissism are more likely to want their voices heard in the political arena. When it comes to narcissistic voters, these people tend to contact political officials, sign more petitions, donate to campaigns, and vote more often in midterm elections.
“If people who are more interested in their own personal gain and status take a greater part in elections, then we can expect candidates to emerge who reflect their desires — narcissism begets narcissism,” Peter Hatemi, a distinguished professor of political science at Penn State says in a media release.
Researchers cite previous studies, which find narcissism can lead to harmful behaviors in any democracy. These individuals tend to shift the political conversation from civic responsibility to self-gratification. The study adds narcissistic behavior in public can lead to more conflicts and strife and less cooperation and compromise.
Narcissists like to broadcast their politics
Study authors survey 500 people in the U.S. and 2,450 residents in Denmark. Another 2,280 Americans were questioned in a web-based study. All three reviews gather information on the voting histories and amount of political participation the respondents engage in.
All of these participants then have their levels of narcissism measured by a questionnaire, asking them to choose between two contrasting statements. These include phrases like “I insist upon getting the respect that is due me” or “I usually get the respect that I deserve.”
The studies conclude narcissists frequently participate early in the political process. They like contacting politicians and like publicizing their opinions. The team adds that since these individuals literally speak out more and their voices are more likely to be heard during election season.
‘Outcomes could be guided by those who both want more, but give less’
Hatemi and co-author Zoltán Fazekas find people who are more or less active hold several other characteristics as well. More active political participants tend to have a feeling of superiority, while less active citizens tend to be more self-sufficient. While the more silent voter may enjoy their independence, Hatemi says more vocal participants end up swaying policies in a more self-centered direction.
“The general picture is that individuals who believe in themselves, and believe that they are better than others, engage in the political process more,” the Penn State researcher explains. “At the same time, those individuals who are more self-sufficient are also less likely to take part in the political process. This means that policies and electoral outcomes could increasingly be guided by those who both want more but give less.”
The report adds it’s difficult to nail down a perfect solution, but warns that any healthy democratic country needs more diverse political conversations.
“Successful democratic functioning requires trust in institutions, efficacy, and engagement in the democratic process,” Hatemi says. “If those who are more narcissistic are the most engaged, and the political process itself is driving up narcissism in the public, in my opinion, the future of our democracy could be in jeopardy.”
The study appears in the journal Society for Personality and Social Psychology.