Type “alt-right” into Google and you’ll stumble across plenty of think-pieces on the subject. Journalists and political commentators on all sides have attempted to understand this new and insidious force in (mainly) American politics, which doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. In fact, now that Trump is in the White House, it has only intensified.
The so-called alternative right might be extremely vocal but it is also extremely vague. It resembles a loose coalition of far right advocates more than it does a clear and concise ideology. Beyond themes of white supremacy, anti-establishment attitudes, and not-so-discreet racism, there is not all that much known about what it stands for. So psychologists Patrick Forscher and Nour Kteily decided to put together a psychological profile on the group. It is still a working paper, but the results were published in a preprint last week, which is available to read here.
To create this profile, Forscher and Kteily recruited 447 self-identified members of the alt-right and sent them an online survey, which tested them on a series of psychological measures. The researchers then compared these responses to those of a control group of 382 people.
Much confirms what we already know about the alt-right: they distrust mainstream media and politicians, they show greater support for pro-white organizations and are more likely to show bias against black people. They also score higher on what is known as the dark triad of personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.
Neither is the demographic all that shocking. Men outnumbered women two to one. The vast majority (93.3 percent) were white. Almost three-quarters supported Trump in the 2016 election, while one in 10 chose not to vote at all. Surprisingly, they found that just over 5 percent backed Hillary Clinton.
Perhaps most terrifyingly of all, participants were asked to rate how advanced they believed different groups of people to be on a scale of zero (not at all human) to 100 (entirely human). Warning: the results are pretty horrific.
Alt-righters rated white people higher than all other groups, placing them at a 91.8 on the evolutionary scale, whereas Jews were rated 73.09, Mexicans 67.75, black people 64.72 and Muslims 55.4. Women were judged to be less evolved than men (88.47 versus 83.12).
Feminists were particularly despised (57.22). Republicans were considered to be more evolved than Democrats (82.78 versus 60.38) but the lowest scorer was Hillary Clinton (54.83).
This is hugely important because it is effectively dehumanizing huge groups of people – basically anyone that does not fit into the alt-right mold. Seeing anyone as less than human – and therefore, less deserving of human rights – is, of course, a serious matter
When it came to questions of social circumstances and the economy, the alt-right were neither socially isolated or economically frustrated. According to the study, alt-righters and individuals in the control group had similar levels of close friends, and, if anything, the alt-right adherents reported a more positive outlook towards the economy. It seems that racial bias and anxiety were the primary drivers to alt-right membership.
Forscher and Kteily did identify two sub-groups of the alt-right: those who represent the more populist, anti-establishment wing and those with a more extremist rhetoric, motivated by ideals of white supremism and wanting to maintain the social hierarchy. Though they did note that there is significant overlap and suggested the former sub-group could be a gateway to the latter as they become more involved in alt-right networks.
Though there are some limitations, which the researchers have themselves acknowledged, including the fact that they relied on participants to self-identify, the study does offer some interesting insight into the minds and motivations of the American alt-right.