Most of the biggest fictional villains undergo a rite of passage where their names become shorthand for real-world evil. It’s no surprise then that, in such fraught political times, the references to notorious Big Bads seem to be everywhere now. Walter White. Darth Vader. The Joker. Sauron. Cersei Lannister. Patrick Bateman. Ramsay Bolton.
But rarely do such comparisons prompt the character’s creator to speak out, as J.K. Rowling did last December after repeated observations that the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is like Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter books:
How horrible. Voldemort was nowhere near as bad. https://t.co/hFO0XmOpPH— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) December 8, 2015
It was a powerful statement, if notably hyperbolic. (Voldemort was a literal mass-murderer; Trump is not. Voldemort was a powerful dark wizard; Trump is just a Muggle.) But a forthcoming study from the journal PS: Political Science and Politics makes a better case for how lessons learned from fiction can influence people’s political preferences. The researcher Diana Mutz, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, found that Harry Potter book readers are actually more inclined to dislike Trump. This was the case even after Mutz controlled for variables such as age, education, gender, party identification, evangelical identification, and ideology.
Given that these typical predictors didn’t change the outcome, Mutz floats the likelihood that the lessons of the novels—embracing tolerance and inclusivity, rejecting physical and psychological violence—might explain the correlation between reading Harry Potter and disliking Trump. Basically: People familiar with the series’ narrative of good-vs-evil might recognize aspects of the books’ portrayals of “evil” in Trump. Mutz discusses how, in Rowling’s novels, the protagonists are constantly defending the outsiders of the wizarding world. “The ongoing battle between good, as personified by Harry and his friends, and evil, as personified by Lord Voldemort, is at root about the importance of group purity,” she writes, drawing connections to Trump’s statements about banning Muslims from entering the U.S., building a Mexican border wall, and other racially inflammatory comments.