Nov 21 2016

Trump v. Clinton: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the Future of Work

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In 1943, Abraham Maslow published his, “Theory of Human Motivation.” Fundamentally, Maslow believed that human beings worked to achieve and sustain their needs according to a fairly predictable hierarchy.

Seen through the lens of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the election results make so much sense. Democrats were not enthusiastic about a Clinton candidacy because she spoke to building a sense of community – of being Stronger Together. This appeals to our need for “Love and Belonging,” and many people voted for Clinton because she represented this need. The need for Love and Belonging manifests itself in ideas like:

  • The need for safe spaces, where minorities and historically oppressed groups can express their perspectives without fear of persecution

  • The need for women to have a voice in the political establishment, and to believe that any qualified person would be judged on their qualifications for the presidency, and not by their gender

  • The need to see yourself as part of the great American experiment, where people of different creeds and colors assemble under a shared vision of freedom and opportunity

In order for each individual to reach their fullest potential, it is clear that we need to feel a sense of love and belonging. We can’t be successful at developing a sense of strong self-esteem without it.

But, Trump spoke to a more fundamental need – the need for Safety. Maslow describes the need for safety as expanding beyond just physical safety, to also encompass economic security, and to feel safe from danger or threats. Trump voters feel the need for Safety with ideas like:

  • The need to protect us from the threat of violence from illegal immigrants who have infiltrated the country

  • The need to create jobs that provide economic stability, so that each of us can keep ourselves safe from harm

  • The need to have affordable healthcare, with reasonable and predictable insurance premiums that provide for physical safety

The biggest lesson for any political candidate is that they must speak to the lowest common denominator need on Maslow’s hierarchy that a majority of the electorate will relate to.

A political campaign that helps people believe that they can become self-actualized, and achieve their highest and best dreams, can only win if the majority of the electorate believes that they are safe; that they belong; and that they have self-worth.

On the other hand, if the majority of the electorate does not feel confident in having food, clothing and shelter, then a campaign focused on self-actualization is doomed.

So, within this context, we can see how our current electorate maps against the need for Safety and the need for Love and Belonging:

The Safety coalition included:

  • Whites with a high school education, who are unsure about their economic future

  • Evangelicals, who see their entire way of life as under attack with secular values proliferating

The Love and Belonging coalition included:

  • College educated whites, who have experienced the benefits of globalization and technology advancements

  • Minority voters, who expect to have a seat at the table of power and decision-making for the future of the American experiment

  • 18-25 year olds, who believe that they will inherit the poor decisions of previous generations and deserve to have a say in decisions made now

Just by looking at these coalitions, you can see how fundamental the issues were to each of these coalitions; for the Safety coalition, electing Trump was existential. The stakes could not be higher – he represents their only hope to maintain their lives in a relatively stable way. By contrast, the urgency for the Love and Belonging coalition was just not as fundamental. Which resulted in a poor turnout for Democrats – across the country, almost 6 million fewer votes were cast for Clinton than were cast for Obama in 2012.

Perhaps the biggest challenge with this election result is that Trump is not going to be able to wholesale move jobs back to the U.S. Advanced industrialized economies will lose over 7 million jobs to technology in just the next four years. By contrast, the U.S. has lost 5 million jobs to offshoring….in the 15 years from 2001-2016.

As software eats the world, we a 21st century economic model to deal with the accelerating automation of work.

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