Fusion with political leaders predicts willingness to persecute immigrants and political opponents

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From the 2016 US presidential election and into 2019, we demonstrate that a visceral feeling of oneness (that is, psychological fusion) with a political leader can fuel partisans’ willingness to actively participate in political violence. In studies 1 and 2, fusion with Donald Trump predicted Republicans’ willingness to violently persecute Muslims (over and above other established predictors). In study 3, relative deprivation increased fusion with Trump and, subsequently, willingness to violently challenge election results. In study 4, fusion with Trump increased after his election and predicted immigrant persecution over time. Further revealing its independent effects, this fusion with Trump predicted a willingness to persecute Iranians (independent of identification with him, study 5); a willingness to persecute immigrants (study 6); and a willingness to personally protect the US border from an immigrant caravan (study 7), even over and above fusion with the group of Trump’s followers. These findings echo past political movements and suggest critical future research.

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Fig. 1: Response distributions and boxplots for the effects of the experimental condition on the dependent variables in study 3 (N= 301).
Fig. 2: Mediation model in study 3 (N= 301).
Fig. 3: Response distributions and boxplots for fusion with Trump and the Republicans over time in study 4 (N= 490).
Fig. 4: The fitted, autoregressive model in study 4 (N= 194).

Data availability

The data for all studies presented in this research can be anonymously obtained at https://osf.io/mn273/?view_only=8d17df0542ac4f03b6673b5a3b039bca. Please note that text written to open-ended prompts (that is, the experimental manipulation) in Study 3 has been deleted to warrant participants’ anonymity. The responses are available upon request.


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We would like to thank E. Ikizer for her help with Study 2. L.T. was supported by grant no. 0602-01839B from the National Independent Research Fund Denmark and L.T. and J.R.K. by grant no. 231157/F10 from the National Norwegian Research Council. Study 2 was funded by internal grants to J.F.D. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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All authors designed the research. J.R.K. collected and analyzed the data, created figures and tables and drafted a first version of the manuscript. J.F.D. and L.T. provided critical revisions.

Correspondence to Jonas R. Kunst.

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Supplementary Tables 1–21, Figures 1–3, Results, Methods, and References.

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