Higher levels of national nostalgia are associated with positive attitudes toward former President Donald Trump and racial prejudice, according to new research published in Frontiers in Psychology. The findings suggest that the appeal of nostalgic political rhetoric is tied to racial animosity in the United States, particularly among Whites.
“My main areas of interest in research are the self and identity. Personal nostalgia is a self-focused emotion because it results from reflecting on your life as it once was, and most of the research on this topic focuses on the positive aspects of this experience,” explained Anna Maria Behler, a teaching assistant professor at North Carolina State University and the corresponding author of the new study.
“Conversations about identity have become especially prevalent in politics in the last several years, and national nostalgia is a darker side of the nostalgic experience that combines a longing for the past that can be influenced by our various identities, such as race, nationality, political views, or gender, etc.”
The researchers surveyed 252 U.S. voters during the Fall of 2017, about one year after the election of Trump. They found that higher levels of national nostalgia were associated with more pro-Trump attitudes above and beyond political affiliation. Higher levels of personal nostalgia, on the other hand, were not associated with more pro-Trump attitudes after controlling for political affiliation.
“The main takeaway is that personal nostalgia and national nostalgia are two very different emotional experiences,” Behler told PsyPost. “Unlike personal nostalgia which is based on individual experience, national nostalgia is related to groups and can occur even when someone has not experienced something for themselves. For example, people can have a sentimental view of a time that they themselves have never been a part of, but may have experienced secondhand through the lens of storytelling, TV shows, or films that portray the past in a very specific light.”
The researchers also found that racial attitudes and racial prejudice played a role in the link between national nostalgia and pro-Trump attitudes. Whether participants were White or Black had no impact on this relationship. However, having a strong sense of belonging to one’s racial group strengthened the relationship between national nostalgia and positive attitudes toward Trump among White participants.
“At first glance, this finding does not align with media narratives and political polling suggesting that Trump’s messaging appealed mostly to White voters. However, although race itself did not predict support for the President, racial identity salience moderated the link between national nostalgia and pro-Trump attitudes. White Republicans felt more strongly connected to their racial identity than Whites who identified as either Democrats or Independents,” the researchers wrote in their study.