4 Reasons Why We Elect Narcissists and Sociopaths
Candidates and voters need to understand narcissistic and sociopathic leaders.
Posted May 6, 2019 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
Over the past year and a half, I have been researching and writing a book titled Why We Elect Narcissists and Sociopaths—And How We Can Stop! In a nutshell, here are four of the reasons why this occurs and will continue at all levels of society (from workgroups to mayors to heads of state) around the world until people realize the personality patterns they are voting for.
1. Seductive personalities
Whether in dating, hiring, or electing people, narcissists and sociopaths are the two most seductive personalities on the planet. For those narcissists and sociopaths who also want to be politicians, they learn how to seduce whole populations and can be temporarily highly effective—long enough to get elected—but then are usually very harmful in the long run. Yet most people miss the simple early warning signs of these high-conflict politicians (HCPs): 1. Preoccupied with blaming others; 2. Lots of all-or-nothing thinking; 3. Unmanaged or intense emotions; 4. Extreme behavior or threats.
Narcissists greatly exaggerate their accomplishments, then they charm people with their grandiose ideas. “I will build you a house/franchise/wall/whatever. It’ll be the best ever. Believe me.” They often convince themselves it's true. On the other hand, sociopaths flat-out lie and make serious threats. “I have a secret plan, but I can’t tell you until after I’m elected. You’ll be amazed. But I have a lot of secrets and don’t expect me to ever tell you, or I may have to hurt you.”
Since narcissists lack empathy and sociopaths lack remorse, they can and will say whatever they think will seduce their targets. They are constantly speaking, often in charming and seductive intimate tones, as they pretend to share interests, political views, and an us-against-them approach, which creates a particularly powerful bond with their followers. At the same time, both narcissists and sociopaths are skilled at constantly complaining that they have been treated unfairly so that they groom their followers step-by-step to aggressively defend them and even fight for them when asked.
2. High-Emotion Media
In the past, political parties, unions, business leaders, and others had time to observe the true personalities of those who wanted to be leaders. Elections were usually between people screened for a variety of skills before becoming candidates. Nowadays, with network television, cable TV, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, there is a lot of competition to get attention for a candidate. But since anyone can run for almost any office now, this means that people with extreme personalities will get the most attention.
Those with these high-conflict personalities are attracted to lots of attention and unlimited power. And these forms of media are compelled to fill their programming and news with those who have the most exciting faces and voices who are always talking about conflict, crises, chaos, and fear—the emotional situations that are most likely to grab our attention away from the more boring (but useful) information of normal politicians. In other words, you don’t need any leadership skills or governing skills to get elected now. You just need a personality that is dramatically preoccupied with telling stories of conflict, crisis, chaos, and fear. Just as the game of basketball attracts the tallest players, the game of high-emotion media attracts the most high-conflict personalities. They are the best at the game.
3. The Fantasy Crisis Triad
In reading the history of the most high-conflict politicians (HCPs) over the past one hundred years, I found a very similar pattern for all of them. It’s easy to learn and easy to spot. There are three parts: 1. There’s a terrible crisis threatening us all; 2. It’s caused by an evil villain—an individual or group; and 3. An incredible hero is needed—typically an exciting outsider—who will quickly slay the villain(s) and solve the crisis with easy all-or-nothing solutions. The fantasy hero is the HCP who couldn’t get elected if it was based on skills, so they have to create or declare a crisis in order to get everyone thinking about the fantasy crisis triad rather than analyzing real abilities.
This fantasy crisis triad works every time when there’s an HCP with narcissistic and sociopathic traits who cons a significant number of people into believing he (occasionally she) is the hero they need because of how confidently and aggressively they speak. It’s all based on emotions and endless speeches, which distract from the realities. Everyone I looked at in depth relied heavily on this, with surprising success, from Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, to McCarthy, Nixon, and Trump, to Putin, Maduro, Duterte, Orban, and Berlusconi.
4. 4-Way Voter Split
But not everyone misses the warning signs. In fact, throughout the examples I researched, the high-conflict politicians rarely reached the support of more than 40% of the population. The majority of the people never supported the HCP as a leader. However, the majority became divided, fought with each other, and became hopelessly ineffective. Even though they were able to see the disaster that the high-conflict politician presented—who was not a hero at all—they still tended to believe in the fantasy crisis and the fantasy villain(s). They were emotionally seduced as well.
So, the eligible voters tended to split into four groups:
Loving Loyalists: These are the followers of the high-conflict politician who have an emotional relationship with their leader and will defend him even when his policies change and he attacks those loyalists who worked for him the day before. In most cases, 30-40% of people are automatically comfortable with the authoritarian leader from the start.
Riled-Up Resisters: These are those who intuitively feel that the authoritarian leader is a threat to the community or nation’s existence. They are automatically angry and protest and sound the alarm. These may be 10-20% of people. They are particularly angry at the Moderates for not getting more involved.
Mild Moderates: These are the people generally in the middle who actually decide elections. They tend to include liberals and conservatives. They dislike the high-conflict politician, but they absorb the intense negativity the HCP teaches against the fantasy villain; so they equally dislike the alleged villain. They get irritated with both the loyalists and the Resisters: Why do you have to argue, protest, and complain so much? It’s just normal politics. They become particularly angry with the Resisters and start to see them as the fantasy villains, sometimes using the same language as the HCP about them. They may be 30-40% as well.
Disenchanted Dropouts: These are the potential voters who don’t vote. They want to avoid politics and just withdraw altogether. Many are also convinced that there’s a crisis, but that the villain and the hero are equally bad. This group can be the largest group, such as approximately half the voters in some elections.
These groups can shift back and forth with elections, but all put together the other three groups consistently are larger than the Loyalists. Yet they are ineffective and unprepared for the HCP's constant intense blaming and division of them, so he gets into office and stays for a while.
This is a very short description of the themes of the book. The historical and present-day examples generally all show the same characteristics of how high-conflict politicians get elected: seductive personalities, high-emotion media, fantasy crisis triad, and splitting the voters into four groups who fight with each other. Until enough voters recognize these patterns of behavior, voters around the world will continue to elect high-conflict politicians who are narcissistic and sociopathic.