More than a month has passed since the fiercely contested US presidential election, and the nation’s institutions are moving day-by-day toward acceptance of the outcome that made Democrat Joe Biden the winner over incumbent Republican Donald Trump.
But Trump is neither conceding nor moving on — and, it appears, the same is true for millions of his supporters.
Since the polls closed Trump has blitzed the nation with unproven claims that he was robbed of victory by widespread fraud and, today, only 15% of Trump’s 74-million voters say Biden’s win is legitimate
Mass-rejection of democratic processes
How do we explain this seemingly mass-rejection of democratic processes and the rejection of verified reality? Researchers at the University of California in Berkeley have attempted to find out.
Berkeley scholars across a range of disciplines suggestthat this is a story not just of numbers, but of a complex interplay of class and racial antagonism, aggravated by despair and social drift – and amplified by new communication platforms, converging to what some see as a troubling psychological phenomenon.
Some scholars suggested that generations of creeping economic insecurity have inspired deep anger, compelling many voters in the white middle and working classes to embrace Trump, flaws and all, because he challenges the American status quo.
Adam Jadhav, a Ph.D. student in geography at Berkeley, travelled to rural Illinois, where he lived as a child, for research that explored the dynamics of rural populism. While the picture there is complex, he said, one hard-line conservative was blunt.
‘Was worth it to try to shake the system’
Votes for Trump were “a hand grenade for the establishment”, he told Jadhav. “Trump does some stupid-ass things, says a lot of stupid-ass things and doesn’t keep his mouth shut when he should. [But] it was worth it to try to shake the system.”
Said Jennifer A. Chatman, Associate Dean at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business: “Trump has claimed that he’s the ‘chosen one’. He’s said he’s super-smart, a genius. … He has established his image as the leader who is cleaning up Washington and the saviour of the common person so convincingly that none of his supporters are looking beyond that to see that, in fact, many of the things he’s doing are exactly the opposite.”
To understand why so many voted to re-elect Trump after four years of historic political turmoil — featuring a failed pandemic response, a devastating economic shock and a crisis in racial justice — it’s necessary to understand the forces that propelled him to victory in 2016.
Coalition of voters motivated by resentment
In recent publications, Berkeley scholars have suggested that Trump won with an unconventional coalition of Americans who were motivated by resentment: The culture and economy gave them no recognition and no respect for their work. Their industries were changing; their jobs were shifting overseas or being lost to automation. They perceive that Black, Latinos, Asians and immigrants are advancing at their expense.
But some Berkeley scholars suggested that for many voters, support for Trump — or any leader — is a more passive choice that takes shape in a sub-rational sphere.
Many people follow a political party as they would a football team, researchers say. Values may be less important in shaping allegiance than family tradition or the shared identity and social pressures of a community.
People have low engagement with politics
Most low-engagement voters simply follow the cues of their preferred party leaders. If a popular leader fans division, they polarise. If the leader appeals to emotions such as sadness or anger, their passions are aroused.
Gabriel Lenz, an expert in political psychology, and other political scientists call it ‘rational ignorance’.
“It’s hard for political junkies to believe,” Lenz said. “But most people have much better things to do with their lives than pay attention to politics. If you ask, ‘How, after the last four years, could people want more of this?’
“Well, people are partisan. The country is polarised. And it’s not clear that people are paying much attention to the details.”