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Attitudes of Clinton, Trump and 3rd party/undecided voters subject of new study by StFX psychology professor

November 3rd, 2017
Dr. Karen Blair

“Did Secretary Clinton lose to a ‘Basket of Deplorables’?” That’s the question StFX psychology professor Dr. Karen Blair asks in a recently published article in the journal Psychology & Sexuality that examines Islamphobia, homophobia, sexism and conservative ideology in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Dr. Blair’s article compares attitudes of Clinton, Trump and 3rd party/undecided voters that were measured two years before the 2016 presidential election. Thanks to a quick response time from the StFX Research Ethics Board, she was able to file an amendment to an existing study in October 2016 that allowed her to ask past participants who they were planning to vote for.

“The study concluded that 3rd party and undecided voters, from a non-representative sample, were more similar to Trump voters than to Clinton voters, and that one of the strongest predictors of not voting for Clinton was an individual’s previously measured levels of ambivalent sexism, the ability to view women in simultaneously hostile and benevolent ways,” she says.

Dr. Blair says about 13 months ago she was watching the first debate between Clinton and Trump and, like many, she was wondering how the election was going to turn out.

“A lot seemed to be at stake, and the entire election campaign seemed to be revolving around hot-button issues and various prejudices, much more so than legitimate policy questions.

“Every week there was a new scandal, riot, or unthinkable comment. At the same time, there was a lot of discussion of whether sexism was playing a role in the election, with many people arguing that it really had nothing to do with it and that there were plenty of legitimate reasons to oppose Clinton besides the fact that she was a woman. Knowing how prejudice works, and how we can sometimes be unaware of our own prejudices, I was naturally skeptical of these claims.”

Partway through that debate, Dr. Blair realized she already had empirical data that could help better understand exactly how various forms of prejudice may or may not be operating within the electorate.

During her CIHR post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Utah, she had conducted a study on responses to same-sex public displays of affection. However, to recruit a sample that would vary in their views towards same-sex couples, the initial online survey was cast as a broad study of ‘Attitudes and Opinions,’ she says. Attitudes towards sexual and gender minorities were measured alongside a variety of other attitudes, so as to not make any one attitude stick out as the main focus of the study.

As a result, hundreds of American voters had completed a survey in 2014 detailing their views of Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and ambivalent sexism. There were also measures of religious orientation and world views. The survey had also included measures of authoritarianism and protestant work ethic, both of which are associated with conservative ideologies.

Dr. Blair began working on an ethics amendment to request permission from the StFX Research Ethics Board to re-contact the previous participants and ask follow up questions, namely, who were they planning to vote for, if they could vote that day, who would they vote for, and how likely they were to vote in the upcoming election.

She says she had originally been overly ambitious and hoped that the article would be published before the election. She also thought that the article would be “dead in the water” and of little interest after Clinton won the election. But she lost, which gave the paper a whole new perspective.

Dr. Blair says it is important to study this issue as people are not always aware of how their attitudes and prejudices influence their behaviour, in this case, voting behaviour.

“In many cases, we are not even aware that we hold prejudicial views. Because of this lack of awareness, it can be difficult to really sit back and assess where our behaviours come from or why we are voting for one candidate over another.”

Attitudes may have been colouring people’s voting decisions. But the same thing happens on a day-to-day basis in all areas of our lives, she says.

“Attitudes and unacknowledged prejudices colour the evaluations that students give to their professors, the hiring decisions that companies make, even the decisions that we make about who we date or who we want our family members to date, or not date, are influenced by our attitudes and prejudices, whether we realize it or not.” 

Demonstrating the link between attitudes and behaviours, and in this case, outcomes as important as the U.S. presidency, can perhaps help people realize that attitudes really do matter, and that even if you don’t think they are influencing you, they still might be, she says.

She says this was particularly true for the case of ambivalent sexism in the current study. Ambivalent sexism refers to the ability to simultaneously hold benevolent and hostile views of women.

“It is what allows someone to say, “I’m not sexist, I think women should be cherished!” or “I’m not sexist, look at how I treat my wife and my daughters.” And yet, at the same time, someone can say those things, but then lash out with quite a bit of hostility against other women, especially women who are seen to be straying from traditional gender norms. This is something that plagues all women who enter the arena of politics. We see it as a deviation from traditional gender norms when a woman asks for something, and especially when she asks for power, or asks for our votes,” Dr. Blair says. “In general, people are much more satisfied and happy with female politicians once they are in power, but they really dislike them before they have power, when they are campaigning and asking for power. In the case of the 2016 election, at least within this sample, ambivalent sexism was the strongest predictor of not voting for Clinton, meaning the higher people were in ambivalent sexism, the less likely they were to vote for Clinton.” 

Dr. Blair says key findings in the study included:

* Trump and Clinton voters differed significantly on every attitude measure included in the study, including Islamophobia, social dominance, ambivalent sexism, homophobia, transphobia and modern racism, among others. In all cases, Trump voters displayed more of the attitude or prejudice in question.
* The same pattern of results was found when comparing 3rd party/undecided voters to Clinton voters, but with one exception: 3rd party/undecided voters were more similar to Clinton voters in terms of levels of Islamophobia than were Trump voters. Trump voters were the highest in Islamophobia. This may have contributed to why some of the voters were undecided or considering a 3rd Party vote - Trump was perhaps too extremist in his Islamophobia views, and yet, at the same time, Clinton was perhaps too liberal on the other attitudes, plus, ultimately, she was a woman, and the 3rd party/undecided voters had significantly higher levels of ambivalent sexism than the Clinton voters. 
* Beyond comparing groups, they also tried to predict voting choice. Islamophobia, homophobia, social dominance and ambivalent sexism were all strong predictors of voting for Trump vs. Clinton, with ambivalent sexism being the strongest predictor. Similar results were found when predicting 3rd party/undecided votes, with the exception of Islamophobia not being a significant predictor of 3rd party/undecided votes relative to Clinton. 

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