As outbreaks of violence produce reprisals and political leaders advocate inflaming the situation over calming it, it may seem like only magic can save us from ourselves. Wizardry may not be the only path, but a new study indicates that it could be useful, with people who read the tales of Harry Potter being less likely to be sympathetic to presidential candidate Donald Trump.
University of Pennsylvania political science Professor Diana Mutz didn’t start out to test the powers of the fictional wizard against the real aspiring overlord. Instead, in 2014 she tested attitudes to religious and sexual minorities, torture, and the death penalty against Potter reading. Mutz found that reading Potter was associated with more supportive attitudes to Muslims and homosexuality.
Mutz followed up on her participants this year, asking them to rate their feelings about Donald Trump from 1 to 100.
“Because Trump’s political views are widely viewed as opposed to the values espoused in the Harry Potter series,” Mutz writes in a paper to be published in Politics and Political Science (preprint here), “exposure to the Potter series may play an influential role in influencing how Americans respond to Donald Trump.”
Such a relationship is certainly hard to test. People who are sympathetic to Trump’s authoritarian politics might be less likely to read fantasy, or perhaps fiction in general. Likewise, the reputations of the books as promoting values of tolerance and non-violence may influence who chooses to read them.
Nevertheless, Mutz concludes that reading Potter does indeed act as a patronus against Trump. “Each [Potter] book that a person has read lowers their evaluation of Donald Trump by roughly 2- 3 points,” she wrote.
Even after controlling for other factors, known to influence attitudes to Trump, including age, sex, education and religious belief, Mutz found Potter readers gave Trump an average of 9 fewer points how favorable they felt towards him. Indeed the effect is more clearly statistically significant than her original findings on attitudes to minorities, with a less than 1 percent possibility of it being by chance. Having seen the films, on the other hand, made no statistically significant difference.
Mutz argues her conclusions regarding Trump have more validity than most studies testing political influences, including the initial component on tolerance. “Temporal precedence of exposure to Harry Potter before forming attitudes toward Donald Trump the politician puts these results on firm ground,” she wrote. “At the time the exposure measures were asked, Trump was not a politician. Years later, when forming their views about Trump, the lessons of Harry Potter were well established.”
The resemblance between Trump and Voldemort have been widely commented on, with both figures demanding unquestioning adoration from their supporters, advocating discrimination against minorities, and promoting torture and attacks on opponents’ family members. It is common for political partisans to compare their opponents to fictional villains, but in this case the resemblance is so strong Trump supporters have enthusiastically embraced posters showing their hero accompanied by a Voldemort quote.
Mutz has noted that the research is relevant to a much older debate; whether fiction can change politics. She points to the widespread, but untested, belief that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin galvanized opposition to slavery
J.K. Rowling has so far not commented on the study, but last year rejected the Trump-Voldemort comparison, suggesting Trump is much worse than anything she could come up with.