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Boris Johnson and the Triumph of Gullibility?

The success of populist politicians such as US President Donald Trump and new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggests that voters are becoming increasingly gullible. Although it is tempting to blame “fake news” and social media for this trend, recent psychological research points to a different and perhaps more startling explanation.

LONDON – US President Donald Trump has already proclaimed that Boris Johnson, Britain’s new prime minister, is popular because he is seen as “Britain Trump” (sic). After all, both politicians are widely seen as having a “populist” style. For cynics, this implies a willingness to tell blindingly obvious untruths if doing so appeals to voters. The populist tag may also refer to such leaders’ “disruptive” impact, in the same way that new technologies have shaken up established industries overnight.

More important, some psychologists now suggest that the success of Trump, the Brexit championed by Johnson, and other populist causes might indicate that voters are becoming increasingly gullible. Although it is tempting to blame “fake news” and social media for this trend, recent psychological research suggests a different and perhaps more startling explanation.

Conventional wisdom holds that people vote for disruptive populists such as Johnson largely out of anger and resentment. But in a recent article, The Economist pointed out that populism and support for parties hostile to the status quo are rising at a time when opinion polls suggest that electorates have generally never been happier.

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