Groupthink and the 2016 election

By Holly Richardson
By Holly Richardson

Groupthink is a communication theory that takes a fascinating look at the dysfunction that can happen in groups where members of the group “invest too much energy in maintaining goodwill” within the group, forming the quintessential echo chamber. Additionally, the group is subject to outside forces such as lack of inadequate counsel, poor decision-making procedures, close-mindedness or a “provocative situation causing much stress in the group.”

The symptoms described by Irving Janis, the researcher who came up with the groupthink theory also describe, I believe, what we see in today’s political climate, specifically the Republican party support of Donald Trump.


An “illusion of invulnerability,” an undue air of optimism that leads people to believe in spite of evidence to the contrary.


The group creates rationalizations to make their decision-making/course of action acceptable. The group “creates a story that makes the group’s decision seem absolutely right” then literally “talks itself into thinking it did the right thing.”


The group “maintains an unquestioned belief in its morality,” leading the group to “soft-pedal ethical and moral consequences.” The parallels to the Trump campaign and its die-hard supporters are hard to miss. It’s “just locker room talk,” right?


Leaders outside of the in-group are stereotyped as “evil, weak or stupid.” Have you seen the debates?! Or how about other Republicans who don’t support the nominee? Yeah.


Direct pressure is put on members to toe the party line and not express counter opinions. Members of the local and national Republican parties have been shaming and blaming #NeverTrump-ers from the beginning.


Group members begin to self-censor, or in other words, they feel reluctant to express an alternate opinion because of #5 (I mean really – who wants to be berated, threatened, called names just for speaking up?!) This symptom is breaking down with more and more Republican party members openly refusing to support the nominee, but it’s been a factor for weeks.


A “shared illusion of unanimity.” The group rallies in an outward display of solidarity, even it is not unanimous. Think the GOP convention when all potential dissenting voices were shut down and Trump “unanimously” won the nomination….

Finally, groupthink involves the emergence of self-appointed “mindguards.” They emerge to “protect the group and its leader from adverse opinions and unwanted information.” Again, have you seen the Trump campaign and its acolytes? Or read the book “1984” perhaps?

Groupthink is thought to be responsible for the space shuttle Challenger disaster. I think it’s played a part in the disaster of the 2016 election cycle as well.


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