A team of researchers from Sweden and Italy have taken a new angle on understanding the rise of Donald Trump: body odor. Wait, what?
There’s a logic here, although it’s not obvious at first whiff. As the researchers point out, how we react to smells has played an important role in how we choose who we interact with and avoid disease in our evolutionary past.
But we don’t all perceive smells the same way. Some of us are more likely to respond with disgust to certain smells than others.
So besides smell perception, what else is wrapped up with our individual predispositions to feelings of disgust? Politics, as it turns out. In their paper, the researchers cite several lines of research indicating that people who are more sensitive to feelings of disgust and more worried about encountering disease tend to endorse more traditional values and to have more exclusionary attitudes toward other ethnic groups.
This potential overlap between smell perception and politics led the researchers to a bold hypothesis: that people who were more disgusted by body odor would have more authoritarian attitudes.
Despite the logic that led them to that hypothesis, the hypothesis itself is still somewhat of a jump. So naturally, the researchers put it to the test.
In a series of studies, they showed that people who were more prone to feeling disgusted by body odor also tended to have more authoritarian attitudes.
On top of that, they found that in the months preceding the 2016 presidential election, people’s levels of body odor disgust sensitivity predicted their levels of support for Donald Trump. A closer look at the data revealed that the link between body odor disgust sensitivity and Trump support could be explained entirely by the link between body odor perception and authoritarianism.
We already know that Trump voters in the 2016 election tended to be whiter and less educated. But now we can refine that profile: the average Trump voter appears to have been whiter, less educated, and more sensitive to the smell of body odor.