Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Political Science

Advisor/Committee Chair

Peter Breiner


The recent rise of right-wing populist candidates and parties in America and around the globe has (unsurprisingly) been associated with a concomitant growth in scholarship on the causes of individuals voting for right-wing populist candidates and joining the movements with which those candidates associate. Much of the scholarship in this area appeals to economics or culture as reasons why individuals side with right-wing populists or right-wing populist parties and movements. This thesis will begin by examining the significant literature in those two areas. Then, I will raise two questions that the literature has scarcely addressed: (1) What is the psychological phenomenon/belief-formation process motivating an individual's voting for a right-wing populist candidate or joining a right-wing populist movement? (2) Why, despite the wealth of evidence that suggests that right-wing populists in power do not heed the concerns of their constituencies, do individuals continue to lend their support to them? I conjecture that recourse can be made to a psychological phenomenon that interested those such as Sigmund Freud and Jean-Paul Sartre and continues to interest psychologists and philosophers alike in the present day—self-deception—to get at answers to these two questions. To give a brief account of self-deception, when individuals engage in it, they believe a false proposition or belief, even against the preponderance of evidence available to them at the time suggesting that the contrary proposition is true. Drawing upon the account of self-deception provided by Alfred Mele (2001) in Self-Deception Unmasked, I demonstrate how self-deception is a plausible phenomenon that perhaps lies beneath individuals voting for right-wing populist candidates or joining right-wing populist parties and movements for purported 'economic' or 'cultural' reasons. The paper concludes by suggesting that despite the ease with which individuals can deceive themselves, because of the nature of self-deception and what we must assume when we assert that one deceives themselves, there remains hope that we can move beyond it

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.