A new research paper by Dr Alyson Blanchard, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Bishop Grosseteste University (BGU), examining voting behaviour in the EU Referendum and US Presidential Election of 2016 from an evolutionary perspective has been published in Evolutionary Psychological Science.
As the paper explains, the year 2016 witnessed historic political change with the ascension to power of Donald Trump and the UK’s vote to leave the European Union (commonly referred to as Brexit). While research has sought to explain these once-deemed unlikely events, an evolutionary theoretical account had remained unexplored.
Dr Blanchard’s work investigated whether people may have felt more fearful for their lives due to media coverage of the War in Syria between 2014 and 2016 that had led to a perceived increase in threat from terrorism and associated immigration issues. Evolutionary theory suggests that when environments seem dangerous and harsh that it is adaptive to make decisions that are optimal for the short-term. In this case, despite the long-term consequences for voting for Trump or Brexit – both campaigns promised immediate resolutions to existential threats caused by terrorism and immigration such as “Taking Back Control” and to “Make America Great Again”.
The multi-study paper revealed that Trump and Brexit voters reported that they had experienced a perceived increase in existential threat in the time period 2014 and 2016, and feared terrorism and immigration respectively. Environmental factors such as social deprivation, ethnicity and education had a differential impact on vote choice, including votes for neither Trump, nor Hilary Clinton. Overall, the link between existential threats and voting is complex, but the paper affords new insight into voter psychology during the EU referendum and US presidential election.”