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The Spite Vote: Uncovering Why Trump Haters Vote Against Their Own Best Interests

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Thinking is hard, and people are complicated. We do not always know the reasons why we behave as we do. Or, even if we know those reasons, we might sometimes struggle to articulate them with clarity and consistency.

In the classic dystopian novel “1984,” George Orwell imagined a futuristic totalitarian regime that could manipulate and capitalize on the complexities that so often bedevil the human mind. Specifically, Orwell’s tyrants relied on what they called “doublethink,” which the author described as “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

To illustrate, imagine someone who subscribes to the following views: “If elected, former President Donald Trump will make things better. I must vote against him.”

This is not a hypothetical scenario but a key takeaway from a CBS News/YouGov poll released on Sunday.

In short, the poll suggested that President Joe Biden will benefit from an anti-Trump spite vote notwithstanding what even the spite-motivated voters themselves recognized as their actual interests.

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The phrase “Trump Derangement Syndrome” hardly seems adequate to account for such extreme cognitive dissonance as those poll respondents exhibited.

Thus, the phenomenon of the anti-Trump spite voter most likely involves complex political and psychological factors, none more insidious than the weaponization of compassion.

The Poll

From June 5-7, CBS News and YouGov polled 2,063 U.S. adults, including 1,615 registered voters. Almost without exception, a majority of those respondents indicated that they believed Trump would do a better job as president than Biden has, that Trump possesses many more qualities of a good president than Biden does, and that things have deteriorated under Biden but would improve under Trump.

Nonetheless, among likely Biden voters, a whopping 54 percent described their decision as primarily a vote against Trump. Only 27 percent of Biden voters actually like the current president. Another 19 percent admitted — pathetically, but at least honestly — that they preferred Biden mainly because of party affiliation.

Meanwhile, likely Trump voters gave almost the exact opposite responses. More than half — 52 percent — planned to vote for Trump because they liked the former president. Another 14 percent chose Trump due to party affiliation. Only 34 percent described their vote as motivated primarily by opposition to Biden.

On the whole, a narrow majority of respondents chose Trump, 50-49 percent, over Biden. And that conforms to the current RealClear Polling average of polls, which shows Trump with a small head-to-head lead nationwide. But that is not the important lesson from this poll.

Instead, the poll’s significance lies in the enormous percentage of Biden voters motivated by anti-Trump animus, particularly in light of those voters’ responses to other poll questions.

For instance, 70 percent of respondents described “things in America today” as going either “somewhat” or “very” badly. Another 63 percent rated the national economy as either “fairly” or “very” bad.

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Meanwhile, 42 percent of registered voters predicted that a second Trump presidency would make them financially better off. Only 16 percent said the same of a second Biden term. Of course, a reliable cadre of deluded Trump haters — 31 percent overall — predicted that Trump would make them financially worse off. But for Biden that number soared to 48 percent.

Likewise, on most relevant personal qualities, registered voters rated Trump much higher than Biden. In fact, in percentage terms, Trump held massive advantages on questions of whether or not respondents found the two candidates effective (52-38), focused (52-38), competent (49-40), tough (66-28) and energetic (61-26).

And the positive numbers for Trump kept coming.

Among likely voters, the economy (81 percent) and inflation (75 percent) ranked as the two most important factors in determining their votes. In fact, 72 percent of respondents described Biden-era inflation as either “difficult” or “a financial hardship.”

On illegal immigration, 70 percent of registered voters expected a second Trump presidency to result in fewer migrants trying to cross the border, compared to 20 percent who, in a miracle of ignorance, predicted that Biden’s policies would decrease attempted border crossings.

Still, the anti-Trump spite vote remained. And the poll featured two results that went a long way toward explaining why.

The Weaponization of Compassion

When asked about the candidates’ personal qualities, registered voters gave Trump the edge in every respect but one. Remarkably, 52 percent of those voters described Biden as “compassionate,” compared to only 37 percent who said the same of Trump.

Somehow, the Biden-as-compassionate narrative has survived the president’s catastrophic administration. Worse yet, it has survived despite massive evidence to the contrary — even evidence offered by poll respondents themselves.

Biden, of course, ranks as one of the most callous men ever to hold high office. Who can forget, for instance, the president’s “no comment” reply to a question about the August 2023 Maui wildfire? Likewise, do those poll respondents know that while serving as U.S. senator from Delaware Biden effectively acted as a personal representative of credit card companies, in which capacity he worked to crush Americans struggling with debt?

Furthermore, Biden rates as by far the worst presidential tyrant in U.S. history. He has spent nearly four years demonizing his political opponents to an unprecedented degree. Biden administration and other deep-state officials have terrorized ordinary Americans. They have sent Trump administration officials to prison and have tried to do the same to Trump himself in a transparent effort to disqualify him from the presidency prior to the election. In the words of Tucker Carlson, Biden amounts to a “wannabe dictator.”

Even if poll respondents knew none of those things, they would still have to contend with their own doublethink.

For instance, when asked whether each candidate “fights for people like you,” 46 percent of registered voters answered “yes” to Donald Trump, compared to only 42 percent who answered “yes” to Biden.

In other words, voters somehow gave Biden a 15-point edge on compassion but still identified Trump as the man who would fight for them. How do we reconcile those two results?

First, we must acknowledge complex and troubling psychological factors that almost certainly work in Biden’s favor. According to a remarkable 2020 Pew Research survey, for instance, liberal white women, ages 18-29, self-reported a diagnosis of mental illness at twice the rate of their moderate or conservative peers. In related news, a CNN exit poll during the 2022 midterm elections revealed that single women preferred Democrats over Republicans by a 37-point margin, 68-31 percent.

We must tread lightly, of course, when dealing with a subject like mental health. But we also cannot ignore it if we hope to understand poll respondents’ cognitive dissonance on the compassion question.

In a recent conversation with political scientist Eric Kaufmann, famed Canadian psychologist and conservative intellectual Jordan Peterson noted that young women in particular appear “differentially sensitive to a certain kind of propaganda,” and that this constitutes “a whole new kind of social problem” in an era when women increasingly occupy positions of authority in universities.

Peterson also cited a series of published 2016 studies, which he helped direct, that revealed “being female” or “having a female temperament” as two of the four major predictors of openness to “politically correct authoritarianism.”

Peterson attributed this authoritarian impulse in part to “misplaced maternal instinct.” It stems, he said, from a “proclivity to divide the world up into predators and infants.” And that proclivity makes young women, especially childless young women, “differentially sensitive” to a “kind of propaganda” that resembles the Marxist dichotomy of oppressors and victims.

Women and those with female temperaments, therefore, have a natural inclination to treat victims with compassion. But that does not solve the compassion problem, for it tells us nothing about who actually deserves compassion.

According to Kaufmann, ideology plays that role.

“An ideology has crept in and told women who to be compassionate towards and who not to care about,” Kaufmann said.

Ideology, in other words, weaponizes compassion. And this brings us back to the problem of propaganda.

For more than eight years, the establishment has bombarded Americans with relentless anti-Trump rhetoric. Trump hates people with dark skin, the establishment’s minions have told us. Trump colluded with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump wants to be a dictator, etc. The litany of lies has continued.

One by one, those lies have exploded in establishment minions’ ugly faces. People with dark skin have gravitated toward Trump, not Biden. Putin invaded Ukraine on Biden’s watch, not Trump’s. Biden, not Trump, has persecuted and imprisoned his political opponents.

To give some credit, those CBS News/YouGov poll respondents in some ways have resisted the onslaught of establishment propaganda. On the question of which president would keep democracy and the rule of law safe, for instance, registered voters only gave Biden a one-point edge, 37-36 percent. Considering that the false Trump-as-a-threat-to-democracy narrative constitutes the whole of the Biden campaign’s message, that result suggests that many voters have tuned out the incumbent’s fear-mongering.

Nonetheless, the compassion narrative persists. In this respect, establishment propaganda has succeeded.

Imagine, for instance, a group of people in their 20s or 30s — Peterson and Kaufmann focused on young women, but these people need not be all women — who absorb anti-Trump propaganda from social media platforms, the Google algorithm, Hollywood, universities and the entire establishment media. These young people learn at minimum that standing against Trump constitutes the fashionable opinion.

Meanwhile, those same young people have learned that compassion consists not in love or mercy but in holding fashionable beliefs. Dividing people into oppressors and victims based on skin color or chromosomes, calling men “women” and vice versa — these are the things in which, they are told, compassion consists. Then, they hear Biden saying those same fashionable things.

Small wonder that they regard an octogenarian tyrant as “compassionate.”

In sum, establishment propaganda has convinced many young people that compassion means hating Trump and saying things that fashionable people say.

Note that, according to this view, compassion does not mean doing good things for the country and actually helping people.

Thus emboldened by the pride they undoubtedly feel in their own alleged compassion, those same young people repeat establishment-driven denunciations of Trump as a “fascist” while at the same time — they do not recognize the irony –behaving as actual fascists themselves.

In a recent interview with The Western Journal, Switzerland-based political scientist Louis Perron explained one manifestation of this compassionate-fascist phenomenon. Namely, Trump voters — slandered as fascists — often keep their support for Trump a secret even from those closest to them.

“They lie to their family, especially about Trump,” Perron said.

Why would they do this unless they feared an unhinged reaction from propagandized relatives who regard themselves as compassionate?

In another recent interview with The Western Journal, author Jeremy Carl described a different element of the doublethink that weaponized compassion produces.

Carl noted, for instance, that social science research has revealed in white liberals a deep hatred of other white people. To explain this, Carl cited psychologist and author Rob Henderson’s concept of “luxury beliefs.”

Carl described those “luxury beliefs” as “essentially really bad beliefs about society that are not true” but that affluent people, blessed with material advantages that shield them from the consequences of their foolish ideas, and concerned primarily with making themselves look and feel morally superior to their neighbors, have the “luxury” of holding.

Conclusion 

According to their own poll responses, most voters regarded Biden’s administration as a disaster. They predicted that a second Trump presidency would improve things. And they showed that they have not wholly swallowed the establishment’s Trump-as-a-threat-to-democracy lie.

Nonetheless, whether we attribute it to some combination of mental illness, ideologically-driven propaganda or “luxury beliefs,” there is no doubting the power of weaponized compassion to produce the sort of doublethink in which some Trump-hating spite voters indulge.

They know that Trump will help the country. But they see in Biden a reflection of their own distorted and self-affirming compassion. So they will act contrary to both their interests and their stated beliefs by voting against Trump.

People are complicated indeed.

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Michael Schwarz holds a Ph.D. in History and has taught at multiple colleges and universities. He has published one book and numerous essays on Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the Early U.S. Republic. He loves dogs, baseball, and freedom. After meandering spiritually through most of early adulthood, he has rediscovered his faith in midlife and is eager to continue learning about it from the great Christian thinkers.
Michael Schwarz holds a Ph.D. in History and has taught at multiple colleges and universities. He has published one book and numerous essays on Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the Early U.S. Republic. He loves dogs, baseball, and freedom. After meandering spiritually through most of early adulthood, he has rediscovered his faith in midlife and is eager to continue learning about it from the great Christian thinkers.




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