Donald Trump and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

By Wayne Adkins

Donald Trump, much to the chagrin of numerous pundits and the GOP establishment, is leading in the GOP primary polls. None of them take the Donald as seriously as the Donald takes himself. Ask him about his qualifications. He will tell you he is very, very rich and very, very smart. He almost invariably conflates the two. He sees his monetary success as an indicator of his intelligence. After all, everyone wants money and if they were smart enough to figure out how to get as much money as he has they would do it, right? Well, no. Trump has made his money primarily in real estate and casinos. He inherited a fortune from his father who was himself a real estate mogul who taught Trump the trade. Most people with millions to invest and daddy’s connections could make money, perhaps without piling up four bankruptcies along the way. Then there are the casinos, a place where the odds are always slightly in the house’s favor. It doesn’t take a genius to make a lot of money when you have a unlevel playing field. If money were really an indicator of intelligence and leadership ability those people should be clamoring for Warren Buffett to run. He could buy Trump ten times over and he’s not a pompous clown.

So why does Trump think so much of himself? It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect. Basically, it’s a cognitive bias wherein people who are relatively less intelligent are really bad at evaluating intelligence because the skill set required to do that is part of the cognitive ability they lack. The end result among the less intelligent is a belief that they are more intelligent than is accurate. Sound like someone we know?

How then, does Trump end up leading in the GOP primary polls? I think it says something about the GOP base as well. They are really bad at identifying intelligence too. They clearly don’t care about the lack of experience among the GOP frontrunners with the top three having never held political office and yet  seeking the highest office in the land. They don’t care that the frontrunners routinely display a lack of scientific knowledge. They don’t care that candidates contradict themselves. Just like the 2012 election cycle they will jump from one candidate’s bandwagon to another creating rotating leads in the polls until they have to go with whatever candidate hasn’t imploded his own campaign, a la Mitt Romney. These are people who still believe that Sarah Palin would have made a good president. Instead of being able to tell that she was clearly in over her head they blamed the media for asking hard questions of her.

Trump may well be the Republican nominee. He may seem like he is teflon coated. Each time he says something incredibly stupid or offensive the pundits think he may have ruined his chances and still he leads in the polls. It’s because people who pundits so graciously call “low information voters” are, like Trump, unable to see the problems with what Trump says.


9 thoughts on “Donald Trump and the Dunning-Kruger Effect”

  1. This is one of the most wonderful examples of irony I have seen. As you describe the Dunning-Kreuger effect, you are providing a perfect example of it in effect. You know so little about business and Trump that you’re unable to see his incredible ability and intelligence. The man graduated from Wharton, builds skyscrapers in Manhattan and all around the world, authored one of the most successful business books ever, made one of the most successful reality shows ever and now, with zero experience, is undeniably the most skilled politician since Obama. You have no idea about what a business bankrupt is or what it implies and you’re so uninformed you think the fact that Casinos have a house edge makes them easy to build and run. Your title is perfect.

    1. He’s a “skilled politician”? Seriously? He puts his foot in his mouth regularly. He insults practically everyone. Skilled politicians don’t do that!

      1. It would never occur to you on the left that the reason Trump says such wild crazy things is simply to piss YOU off. Which millions of us enjoy immensely every day.

  2. “The end result among the less intelligent is a belief that they are more intelligent than is accurate. Sound like someone we know?”

    Yes, the author of this article comes to mind, unable to see Trumps intelligence.

    “They clearly don’t care about the lack of experience among the GOP frontrunners with the top three having never held political office and yet seeking the highest office in the land.”

    Yet the Democrats twice elected a community organizer with no political or managerial experience.

    1. Apparently you don’t consider serving terms in both Illinois and US senate ‘political experience’. Bankruptcies aside, Trump’s “managed” to run at least a dozen companies into the ground. The man hasn’t demonstrated even a topical understanding of domestic or foreign policy, with the exception of negotiating with low-level foreign officials to build shitty hotels.

      There seems to be a discrepancy between your perceptions and reality…hmm.

    2. Help us please read the original papers by Dunning and Kruger they tested validated and proved their hypothesis in a controlled trial in which persons were asked to access their performance on a series of cognitive test those scoring in the lowest quartile grossly over estimated their performance and ability (Trump) those in the top(Buffet / Gates/ etc) underestimated their performance. This is what exactly explains Trump and his supporters the stupid don’t have the skills necessary to recognize their stupidity!

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