Narcissistic People Are More Likely To Take Part In Political Activities

By Emily Reynolds

There’s likely to be a diverse set of factors driving any given person’s interest in politics. It could be that their parents had a political affiliation they’ve subsequently inherited; they may have had a personal experience that changed how they see the world; politics could provide a social life or community connections; they might consider political action a civic duty; or they might just be passionate about a particular issue.

According to a recent paper in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, there may be another motivation, too — namely narcissism. The paper finds that particular kinds of narcissism are related to taking part in political activities, suggesting that deeply rooted individual factors may play a large part in our willingness to engage in politics.

Zoltán Fazekas from Copenhagen Business School and Peter K. Hatemi from The Pennsylvania State University explored the link between narcissism and political participation through three surveys: one in Denmark, with 2,450 participants, and two in the US, with 500 and 2,280 participants respectively. In each study, participation in politics was measured through an eight-item questionnaire, which gave an overall measure of participation based on how often people took part in various activities like signing a petition, boycotting or buying products for political reasons, participating in protests, attending political meetings, contacting politicians, donating money, contacting the media, and taking part in political forums and discussion groups.

Narcissism was measured using the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, with participants asked to choose between two opposing statements (e.g., “I insist upon getting the respect that is due me” vs. “I usually get the respect that I deserve”). From these questions an overall score is generated, as well as scores for different facets of narcissisms.

As anticipated, there were significant and positive correlations between narcissism and political participation across all three studies, with more narcissistic people participating in politics more than the less narcissistic. The size of this effect was similar to that of other important predictors of political participation like level of education.

There was no relationship between narcissism and voting in general elections, however, though this might be related to high turnout — in the 2011 general election in Denmark, turnout was an impressively high 88%. Voting in US midterm elections, which tend to have lower turnout, was linked to narcissism.

There were also some interesting links between participation and particular facets of narcissism. Higher levels of authority-seeking, perceived leadership ability, and feelings of superiority were consistently associated with taking part in political activities. This makes sense: if you believe yourself to have the qualities of a leader then taking part in political activity could be one way of exercising that sense of moral superiority.

On the other hand, aspects of narcissism like entitlement, exploitativeness, and self-sufficiency were negatively related to participation: people displaying these traits were less likely to engage with politics. This paints a fairly gloomy picture of political participation, with politics guided by “those who both want more but give less”, as the team puts it.

However, the direction of causality in the relationship between narcissism and political participation is unclear. It would be interesting to look at it from another angle: what impact does political participation have on narcissism? In other words, does frequent engagement with politics change people’s personalities? If you’re surrounded by people who share your political convictions, it’s not too much of a leap to believe that you might end up feeling morally superior to others. Those with latent narcissistic traits may also find them coming to the fore when engaging with politics.

Either way, it’s interesting to consider some of the more individual motivations for political participation. For many, political affiliations or stances are deeply personal: they can say something quite profound about who somebody is. The team also suggests that there may be a specific link between narcissism and participation in populist political activities: looking more deeply into individual factors may help us understand why such policies are so popular and why others, perhaps more collectivist or altruistic in nature, fail to gain support.

Narcissism in Political Participation

Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest