Can Psychologists Predict Whether Donald Trump’s Popularity With Followers Will Endure or Fade?

Perhaps the least contestable thing you can say about the unpredictable Donald Trump is that he is a polarizing politician. Clearly a lot of people love him, while it seems almost as many detest the President.

Yet no one appears to have posed the key dilemma that will surely determine the success of his reign. Will his ardent followers continue to love him for an extended period into his Presidency? Will they forgive the inevitable set-backs and disappointments? Can Donald Trump display the necessary leadership skills to retain the country’s confidence when governing isn’t going his way?

There is a recent scientific psychological study that suggests an intriguing answer to these questions.

The research was entitled, “The Leader Ship Is Sinking: A Temporal Investigation of Narcissistic Leadership and concluded that despite enjoying a honeymoon period of leadership, the appeal and attractiveness of the narcissistic leader rapidly wanes. University students were randomly assigned to leaderless groups, enabling participants to develop and display leadership.

This study might predict that Donald Trump’s supporters could become rather rapidly disenchanted with the very trailblazer they so idolize at the moment.

The investigation, published in the prestigious academic psychology journal,Journal of Personality in 2016, was inspired by the so-called ‘chocolate cake’ model of narcissistic leadership.

Chocolate Cake Model

This model was first introduced by Keith Campbell, a professor of psychology at the University of Georgia, who was alluding to the fact that the first mouthful of chocolate cake is usually tasty and therefore, extremely pleasurable.

But, over time as you consume more of the confectionary, it’s the very richness of its taste that renders you increasingly nauseous. Professor Keith Campbell contended that being led by a narcissist was like eating too much chocolate cake: Narcissists are initially perceived as effective leaders, but this positive take seems to decrease over time.

Originally developed to explain love affairs with narcissists, for example, such ego-merchants are great on a first date, but tend to get tiresome further into a relationship. The ‘chocolate cake’ model also applies to leaders and their followers.

Is the psychological research on narcissistic leaders predicting that once the honeymoon is over, Donald Trump’s followers are going to live to regret their commitment following the heady ‘first date’ of the election campaign?

The authors of the latest study, from Bangor University, The University of Stirling and The University of Derby in the UK, were partly inspired by this finding that while narcissists make a better first impression than those less in love with themselves, with increasing acquaintance, their heightened arrogance begins to drag. So, almost inevitably, narcissists are inexorably found less entertaining the more you get to know them. Particularly unappealing is their tendency to swagger and overestimate their talents.

Psychologists Chin Wei Ong, Ross Roberts, Calum Arthur, Tim Woodman and Sally Akehurst, the authors of the latest study into narcissistic leadership, point out that one possible explanation for why narcissistic leaders seem great ‘on a first date’, but end up being rated poorly in the long run is that leadership ‘emergence’ and leadership ‘effectiveness’ are two different things, but are frequently confused with eachother by an electorate.

Leadership emergence is achieved by attaining high status in a group of strangers, while once you are identified as a leader, effectiveness is judged by one’s actual performance in the post.

A Rude Awakening?

Although there is no doubt Donald Trump is masterful at emerging as a front-runner, this first impression doesn’t in any way predict his future effectiveness as a leader. It is suggesting that his followers may shortly experience a rude awakening.

Another theory is that narcissists’ decision-making strategies focus on short-term gains (which makes sense when trying to get attention at the beginning of a popularity contest) but then later while being in power, this strategy comes at the expense of long-term benefits.

The authors of this latest study found that the decline in rating of leadership in those higher in narcissism is associated with a waning in the degree to which they display transformational leadership.

The researchers explain that transformational leadership is an approach that involves establishing relationships with followers through emotional and inspirational interactions, so that supporters become motivated to perform beyond their expectations.

However, given narcissists’ continual striving for self-enhancement and personal glory to the extent of exploiting others for personal gain, their transformational leadership possibilities fade over time.

A truly great transformational leader grabs your attention – but does so in a bid to get you to perform better. By everyone in the team doing better, the squad wins and rises to the top. In the end, it’s not about them – it’s about you.

Perhaps the most emblematic example is the famous quote from John F Kennedy delivered at his inauguration on January 20, 1961: ‘My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country’.


Can Psychologists Predict Whether Donald Trump’s Popularity With Followers Will Endure or Fade?

Dr. Raj Persaud & Dr. Peter Bruggen

Dr. Raj Persaud & Dr. Peter Bruggen are regular contributors to Psych Central Professional. Dr. Rajendra Persaud, also known as Raj Persaud, is a leading consultant psychiatrist, broadcaster and author of popular books about psychiatry. He is well known for raising public awareness of psychiatric and mental health issues in the general media. He has published five popular books and has received numerous awards. The Times recently placed him as one of the Top Twenty Mental Health Gurus in the world.

Dr. Peter Bruggen was part of the UK Royal College of Psychiatrist's Podcast Editor Team, with Dr. Persaud. From 1969 to 1994 he was a consultant psychiatrist at Hill End Adolescent Unit, St Albans. He was also a consultant psychiatrist from 1969-90 at the Tavistock Clinic. His work has featured family therapy at the death bed, working with families in the community rather than admitting adolescents to hospital, and staff relationships. Dr. Bruggen has also written three books, including Surviving Adolescence and Helping Families (both with Charles O'Brien), and Who Cares? True Stories of the NHS Reforms, for which he conducted face-to-face interviews with one-hundred people.


APA Reference
Dr. Peter Bruggen, D. (2019). Can Psychologists Predict Whether Donald Trump’s Popularity With Followers Will Endure or Fade?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 25 Sep 2019
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 25 Sep 2019
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