RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) – The dramatic hours of Election Day 2016 are already being memorialized as a watershed moment in American history. Two films are in wide release examining the events; the documentary “11/8/16,” and the comedy “The Misogynists.”

“I’m not surprised people are making movies about that night,” said Will Dunlop, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Riverside. “Ten or 20 years from now, people will look back on this like they look back on other significant moments in history, such as the election of Barack Obama and the first time we landed on the moon. The election of Donald Trump marked a seismic shift in how people think about American politics, as well as the members in their community who may or may not have voted for him.”

A recent paper published by Dunlop and his team sought to analyze the way supporters of Trump and Hillary Clinton have conceptualized, or “storied,” their experiences on Nov. 8, 2016. Specifically, Dunlop’s research looked at the “master narratives” constructed by individuals on either side of the U.S. cultural civil war. These master narratives help people interpret an experience. In the case of Election Day 2016, the master narratives that have emerged help Clinton and Trump supporters understand the significance of Trump’s election as the 45th president of the United States.

Exploring master narratives also offers group a peek into the mindset of individuals on the other side of the political divide, something that has proven elusive in public discourse since the 2016 presidential election.

“If you want to better understand people, you need to understand the cultural psychology of their corresponding social groups. To do both, you need to look at how members of a given culture describe, or narrate, their life experiences,” Dunlop said. “This can help individuals access a more intimate perspective of opposing group members and, in some cases, reduce the degree of prejudice and stereotyping between these groups.”

The research, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, was the result of two studies by Dunlop’s team. The studies considered the stories of about 550 individuals who voted for Clinton or Trump. As the events of election night 2016 unfolded, Clinton and Trump supporters came to terms in different ways with an election result that few pollsters predicted.

Clinton voters tended to view the outcome with shock and despair. Clinton supporter “Laura” was selected as representative of the mindset. Here is what Laura said about election night 2016:

I got home from work that night and my husband and I then walked to our local polling place which is about a 15-min walk from our house. There was no wait and the entire process took under 10 min from getting there to leaving. We then walked back to the house and were optimistic about the election results thinking that Clinton would win … As the night wound on, I started to get a sinking feeling as the results started to come in and the projections started to change. I tried to be optimistic but strongly remember having a sinking feeling and a sense of foreboding. As the results came in and were going more and more in favor of Trump, we started to wonder if this could really be happening and clinging on to the slim chance that Clinton could still win. When the tide finally turned… I almost felt sick to my stomach to be honest, I had a real sense of uneasiness and I guess I was really in a state of shock … I really couldn’t believe this is what the American people wanted. I really don’t think I have been so stunned about anything in my life. When it was happening, we were literally lost for words and just stared at the TV shaking our heads.

In contrast, Trump supporters’ initial apprehension about the election gave way to feelings of affirmation, and even a renewed sense of the goodness of mankind, Dunlop’s research found. “Caitlyn” was chosen as representative of this narrative.

At the beginning of election night when the results first started to come in, I was sitting in front of the TV (with Fox News on) painting Christmas crafts for a craft fair. I was by myself and I remember thinking that this night was going to suck because of how much I dislike Hillary Clinton and her lying ways. I was really in disbelief when the results started coming in and things were looking up for Trump. I look back on that night fondly. It was really cool to switch the channel and see the newscasters on other channels start realizing that things were going differently than expected … Later that evening, my husband and I were watching the results together after NC and OH were called. We were sitting on the couch discussing how exciting it was that middle-class America had finally stepped up and made their voice heard … My husband and I were feeling extremely positive about the future of our country and the economy and discussing all the wonderful things this could mean (an) end to Obamacare, stronger military, stricter rules on immigration … and so much more.

In the study, Trump voters’ narratives were flavored with themes such as “redemption,” and “hope.” Conversely, Clinton supporters’ stories were characterized by themes such as “surprise,” and “contamination,” the latter term referring to a narrative that begins with a positive tone and ends with a negative one.

For Clinton supporters, Dunlop theorized that the despair narrative serves a practical purpose: it allows them to commiserate with each other, fostering a sense of belonging in the midst of uncertainty. For Trump supporters, the narrative provides feelings of validation. If one reads the narratives closely, Dunlop said, they offer clues to opposing mindsets about the 2016 election.

In addition to Dunlop, authors of the paper, “The Cultural Psychology of Clinton and Trump Supporters: A Narrative Approach,” include Nicole Harake and Dulce Wilkinson, both doctoral psychology students at UC Riverside.

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