Is There a Bit of Donald Trump in Each of Us?

In politics, similarity is electability: play the human card for a winning hand.

Posted May 26, 2016

Source: Shutterstock

Trump is constantly under fire for being politically incorrect.  Yet some of his most controversial statements were made in connection with issues of public concern.  His supporters are quick to point out that beneath the fiery rhetoric proposing controversial methods of achieving national security is an expressed desire to keep Americans safe.  This is a premise with which most voters agree, even if they do not agree with Trump´s ideas about how that might be achieved—“building a wall,” or “banning Muslims” (although the latter idea is now apparently “just a suggestion.”[1])

Similarly, many voters share Trump´s desire to "make America great again"--even those who appreciate that we are great already.  

Sharing a candidate´s emphasis on national security and positive vision for America´s future is certainly important.  Yet when it comes to influencing voters on a personal level, there is more to the story.  Connecting with voters is easier if a candidate can establish common ground.  

Born to Bond: Perceived Similarity Increases Electability[2]  

Political positions aside, do you, as a voter, identify easier with Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?  Many of you will say “neither.”  Yet research shows that your answer might be based in part on perceived similarity.  Whether in terms of worldview, background, or demographics, we gravitate towards others with whom we can identify.  Similarity attracts in a variety of settings—personally, professionally, and yes, even politically.

Similarity breeds contentment. Bonding through identification, we gain a sense of connectedness, security, and belonging as we are drawn toward people who remind us of ourselves.  Whether they look like us, talk like us, or share the same background or experiences, we often view “similar” others as “safe.” 

Similarity is attractive.  The similarity effect is recognized as “one of the most robust phenomena” in attraction research.[3]  We like people more when we perceive them as similar,[4] and spend more time with them.[5] “Birds of a feather flock together.”[6] 

We are drawn towards people with similar backgrounds, personality attributes, hobbies,[7] values,[8] attitudes,[9] and social or personal traits.[10]  Similarity can even enhance perceived trustworthiness.[11] This is important in an election season where credibility counts—as demonstrated by the consistent attacks on both frontrunners.

So, with the November general election on the horizon, how well are Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton using similarity to bond with potential voters?

Source: Shutterstock

Candidates Connect Better With Common Ground Than Background

Few voters can imagine leading the lifestyle of Donald Trump—as showcased through the years in photo spreads, including a view of his 66th floor Manhattan penthouse apartment in Trump Tower.[12]  Nor can voters relate to his background--in terms of his work ethic, and his long successful career in business and the entertainment world. 

Yet voters might relate to Trump´s viewpoints. This is important because research demonstrates that people who share our viewpoints and values affirm and validate our personal beliefs,[13] which generates attraction.[14]  Accordingly, voters who agree with Trump on some of the issues—even including those for which he has been criticized for expressing so bluntly, might vote for him on that basis alone. 

Similarly, few voters can relate to the background of Hillary Clinton.  While some women may vote for Clinton because she is a woman, her long history in politics constitutes experience that few women (or men) can relate to on any level.  Perhaps that is why Clinton began her Presidential campaign on the grassroots level, attempting (unsuccessfully) to blend into the general population. 

Secretary Clinton began her campaign with a road trip to Iowa in the “Scooby Doo Van,” stopping for lunch at a Maumee, Ohio Chipotle, where after standing in line like any other customer, she ordered a chicken bowl with guacamole.[15]  Donald Trump, on the other hand, arrived at the Iowa State Fair offering children free rides in his $7 million helicopter.[16] 

Certainly, more voters can identify with Clinton´s chicken bowl than Trump´s helicopter. Yet arguably, voters might connect better with Trump´s confident and declarative (if unsupported) statements about keeping America safe, and making America great again. 

With so many areas in which candidates suffer from an inability to connect and identify with voters on a personal level, there remains one area where connection is assured—our shared humanity. 

The Winning Hand Contains the Human Card 

Trump accused Hillary Clinton of playing the woman card—an assertion that dominated the news cycle as Clinton followed her own positive interpretation of the allegation with her now famous line—“Deal me in!”  Past candidates have been accused of playing other types of cards, catering to special interest groups based on their particular affiliations and demographics.  But instead of catering to differences, candidates may be more successful focusing on similarities.  Just as citizens of every skin color are all members of the “human race,” a winning hand in election politics should contain the only card all voters can identify with—the Human Card. 

The Human Card may be the best method of connecting to voters, because while we do not all share the same gender, skin color, occupation, or background, we all share the human experience.  And you can take that to the ballot box.


[2] Some of the research and examples in this column are taken from Dr. Patrick´s latest book, Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Other Toxic People in Every Area of Your Life (St. Martin´s Press, 2015).

[3] R. Matthew Montoya and Robert S. Horton, “A Meta-Analytic Investigation of the Processes Underlying the Similarity-Attraction Effect,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 30, no. 1 (2012): 64–94, doi: 10.1177/0265407512452989.

[4] Ap Dijksterhuis and Ad van Knippenberg, “The Relation Between Perception and Behavior, or How to Win a Game of Trivial Pursuit,” in Social Cognition: Key Readings, ed. David L. Hamilton (New York: Psychology Press, 2005), 266–82 (280).

[5] Miller McPherson, Lynn Smith-Lovin and James M. Cook, “Birds of a Feather: Homophily in Social Networks,” Annual Review of Sociology 27 (2001): 415–44 (416). 

[6] This general rule has exceptions.  See, e.g., Elizabeth E. Umphress, Kristin Smith-Crowe, Arthur P. Brief, Joerg Dietz, and Marla Baskerville Watkins, “When Birds of a Feather Flock Together and When They Do Not: Status Composition, Social Dominance Orientation, and Organizational Attractiveness,” Journal of Applied Psychology 92, no. 2 (2007): 396–409.

[7] Viren Swami and Adrian Furnham, The Psychology of Physical Attraction (London: Routledge, 2008), 141.

[8] Sarah Trenholm, Persuasion and Social Influence (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1989), 11.

[9] Dijksterhuis and Van Knippenberg, “The Relation Between Perception and Behavior,” 280.

[10] Frank W. Schneider, Jamie A. Gruman, and Larry M. Coutts, Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (Thousand Oaks: SAGE, 2005), 86.

[11] Karen S. Cook, Russell Hardin, and Margaret Levi, Cooperation Without Trust? (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2005), 67 (seeking interaction with trusted others, many people restrict associations to individuals within their ethnic or social group).   


[13] Ronald B. Adler, Lawrence B. Rosenfeld, and Russell F. Proctor II., Interplay: The Process of Interpersonal Communication (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 278.

[14] Elliot Aronson, Timothy D. Wilson, and Robin M. Akert, Social Psychology, 6th ed. (Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007), 312.