We were having lunch with friends recently, and the conversation got around to politics. “How,” one person wondered, “could my friends and family members who voted for Trump still be so solid in their support? Through the porn star payoffs, incivility, and daily displays of ignorance that characterizes the dumpster fire that is this administration? How is that possible?”
The discussion that ensued touched on many of the same ideas we wrote about nearly two years ago here on NonProfit Pro. We are talking about it again since the point has been proven by the steadfast support Trump enjoys.
Donald Trump is now the President of the United States. To some, this is inexplicable. According to the mechanics of the human mind, however, it is perfectly reasonable that Donald Trump is President.
Here’s a big reason why: Think back to when Trump pushed the idea that Barrack Obama wasn’t born in America. People with no alignment with Trump, but a profound distaste for President Obama, supported that idea. They supported it in very public comments to others in person, often on social media, particularly Facebook.
Having self-identified on Facebook as someone in agreement with the “birther” idea, Facebook fed people (predictably and algorithmically) more opportunities to comment and share similar items. And people did. These folks displayed their opinion in other ways too – in conversation, in blogs, in interviews, at church, at family gatherings – everywhere.
Trump, when he announced for President, provided people who liked those ideas with a multitude of opportunities to support them publicly. By supporting those ideas – which were attached to Trump – people aligned themselves inextricably to him. Think of it this way: if a = b, and b = c, then a = c. If I support the birther idea, and Trump supports the birther idea, I must like Trump’s ideas.
At some point, these folks had little psychological choice but to continue to support Trump. How does that work in your brain? And how can this same idea be good for nonprofits?
Here’s the key question: once that attachment has been made, how difficult would it be for those people to change their minds? As it turns out, almost impossible. In a classic experiment, two social psychologists, Morton Deutsch and Harold Gerard, studied this very question. Deutsch and Gerard wanted to know how easy it is to get people to change their minds after finding out that they had made a wrong choice.
They also studied the conditions under which people would be more willing or reluctant to change their minds if they were shown that their judgment was proven to be incorrect. In short, they wanted to test:
- If people would change their minds if they were proven to be wrong, and
- What conditions would make people apt to admit an error in judgment?
Deutsch and Gerard set up an experiment with college students and broke them into three groups. Each group were shown a set of lines and asked to estimate the lengths of the lines and record their answers.
- The first group was asked to privately (in their minds) estimate the lengths of the lines.
- The second group was asked to record their answers on a device that allowed them to erase what they wrote immediately.
- The third group was asked to jot down their estimates on a piece of paper, sign it at the bottom and then hand it in.
The only difference in the three modes of answering the question was in how private the answers were.
The results? People in the first group, who privately held their answers in their minds, were willing to accept their answers as being incorrect.
Those in the second group, whose answers were semi-private, (being written and then erased) were somewhat reluctant to change their minds.
But by far the group most resistant to changing their minds was the group who had jotted down their answers, signed the results and submitted the answers to the experimenter. This group represents, to use our example, those who had publicly supported the birther idea.
If you’ve read much of our work, you know that cognitive dissonance, self-perception theory and bias for consistency are frequent topics. They are at work here. But that is not for this blog.
For this blog, I leave you with the idea that Trump supporters, having overtly displayed their attitudes on Facebook, in interviews, in conversation, with yard signs, are now in a position in which the odds of changing their minds are close to zero. If CNN and Fox News released evidence proving Trump was indeed Satan, psychologically it would likely matter to only a handful of his supporters.
Reading this, some of you may feel uncomfortable – or worse – right now. Let me at least offer this: you can use the same principles to benefit worthwhile causes. Here’s how: Elicit an attitude that benefits your nonprofit. Get people to say it loudly. Let them steep in the juices of unintended alignment. Then gratefully acknowledge their support, take it and do good on their behalf.