President Donald Trump has long tried to depict himself as hyper-masculine. He openly disdains the #MeToo movement and constantly brags about his personal strength. And his message seems to have worked…at least on a certain kind of men. A new report has uncovered a link between support for Trump and fragile masculinity.
In a report published in The Washington Post on November 29th, New York University social psychologist Eric Knowles and social psychology doctoral student Sarah DiMuccio wrote that men who are more insecure about their masculinity are more likely to support the 45th president. To reach this conclusion, they measured the popularity of Google search terms that reflect concerns about being “manly” enough, like “erectile dysfunction,” “penis enlargement,” “how to get girls,” and “penis size.”
After finding the parts of the U.S. where these terms were most likely to be searched, the researchers compared the results to a map of support for Trump in the 2016 presidential election. And sure enough, Trump was more popular in places where people were Googling phrases like, oh, you know, “penis size.”
Knowles and DiMuccio noted that in the 2018 midterm elections, districts with higher support for Republican candidates (of any gender) also showed higher instances of these search terms, suggesting that being insecure with one’s manliness could relate to support for the GOP overall. However, they pointed out that this wasn’t always the case; fragile masculinity was not associated with support for John McCain 2008 or Mitt Romney in 2012. The correlation between the two factors was also notably absent in the 2014 and 2016 midterm elections. So this could indicate that the phenomenon is Trump-specific.
And, like any study, this one had limitations. Knowles and DiMuccio acknowledged that their findings were only correlational—meaning that it’s not clear if fragile masculinity is what caused men to vote for Trump. But they also explained that this isn’t grounds for dismissing their research.
While this report is interesting, it doesn’t mean that all Trump supporters are necessarily insecure men, of course (white women were largely part of the Trump victory, too). But the results are definitely worth a more serious discussion (and maybe a laugh).