Electoral outcomes can lead to quick changes in social norms
The increase in support for Donald Trump in the US made people more willing to openly express anti-immigrant views
Social norms can change very quickly through mechanisms such as election results, which act as aggregators of information on social attitudes of individuals. A recent US National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper, jointly authored by Leonardo Bursztyn from the University of Chicago and others, argues that the fear of being seen as an outlier may force many people to not reveal their conservative views explicitly. This can change quickly if an election result shows wider acceptability for such views. The paper’s authors conducted a social experiment in which respondents were asked to authorize payments to an anti-immigrant fund in the US. Those who expected their donations to be anonymous were more likely to make the commitment, showing the public stigma associated with xenophobia. However, the gap reduced as Donald Trump—whose campaign had a major anti-immigrant plank—gained in popularity. The paper attributes this to increased confidence among such belief-holders that they would not be judged harshly.