In September, I wrote the piece below about what seemed like the apparent connection between authoritarianism and support for Donald Trump. I wasn’t the only person proposing as much. But based on the book that Marc Hetherington and I wrote in 2009, Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics, it seemed as though the Trump phenomenon reflected an apotheosis of sorts of a much longer trend in American politics – the sorting of voters by personality type into two increasingly and irreconcilably opposed partisan camps.
In late summer, pundits were still coming to terms with the prospect that The Donald was more than a mere “entertainment” story and were perplexed by his unruly and seemingly disparate and hard-to-pin down coalition of supporters. The authoritarian divide seemed to provide a powerful and parsimonious – if necessarily incomplete – explanation for the phenomenon.
Now that Trump has emerged as the undeniable frontrunner for the GOP nomination, some have asked for an update. In that light, a few points are worth making:
1) thanks to the work of Matthew MacWilliams, a long-time political consultant and now PhD candidate in political science at UMass Amherst, we have strong empirical evidence authoritarian-minded individuals form the bedrock of Trump’s success. MacWilliams conducted a national survey of voters in December and found that authoritarianism was the single best predictor of support for Trump. He explained his results in detail here. Other surveys are being conducted in various places now that include the measures necessary to distinguish more and less authoritarian-minded voters. Once those results are in, I am confident they will provide very strong further support for the thesis.
2) To back up, some Kos commenters wanted to know more about how authoritarianism is measured. There is a four-item parenting battery that is used to do so. As fielded by the American National Election Studies poll over the past couple of decades, and by others, the “question” reads as follows:
"Although there are a number of qualities that people feel that children should have, every person thinks that some are more important than others. I am going to read you pairs of desirable qualities. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have." The pairs of attributes are independence versus respect for elders, obedience versus self-reliance, curiosity versus good manners, and being considerate versus being well behaved.
The non-authoritarian answers are independence, self-reliance, curiosity and being considerate. Individuals’ responses are converted to a zero to one scale. Low scores reflect a non-authoritarian worldview. High scores, obviously, reflect an authoritarian one. We explain in detail in the book how and why these connections exist. So does, very importantly, Karen Stenner, in her book, The Authoritarian Dynamic.
3) as conventionally defined, the Republican Party has become an increasingly conservative party in recent years (by similar lights, Democrats have, on the whole, become more liberal, though they have not moved left as far as Republicans have moved right). But Trump supporters stand out from even this conservative milieu, and in ways one would expect using the authoritarianism frame. A PPP poll conducted in South Carolina last week included these findings about Trump supporters:
70% think the Confederate flag should still be flying over the State Capital, to only 20% who agree with it being taken down. In fact 38% of Trump voters say they wish the South had won the Civil War to only 24% glad the North won and 38% who aren't sure. Overall just 36% of Republican primary voters in the state are glad the North emerged victorious to 30% for the South, but Trump's the only one whose supporters actually wish the South had won.
-By an 80/9 spread, Trump voters support his proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States. In fact 31% would support a ban on homosexuals entering the United States as well, something no more than 17% of anyone else's voters think is a good idea. There's also 62/23 support among Trump voters for creating a national database of Muslims and 40/36 support for shutting down all the mosques in the United States, something no one else's voters back. Only 44% of Trump voters think the practice of Islam should even be legal at all in the United States, to 33% who think it should be illegal.
Trump has crafted his appeals in such a way as to appeal distinctively to authoritarian-minded voters, even in a field defined by hardline conservatism generally.
4) Caveats apply: most folks score somewhere in the middle; not everyone who answers these questions the same way shares the same worldview; people’s worldviews can and do change over time; no single variable can explain all of an individual’s perspective, let alone an entire political system. Material conditions matter. And so on.
It’s worth noting that among the folks from whom Trump is drawing support, it would appear, are those who aren’t necessarily high in authoritarianism, but whose perception of threat — especially about terrorism — is very high. In our book, we explained how it was that under threatening circumstances – after 9/11, for example – non-authoritarians and authoritarians begin to look more alike. For non-authoritarians, this sense of threat tends to fade with circumstance. By contrast, high authoritarians tend to be on “high alert” more of the time. But the point is that Trump has an additional pool of voters who might find his threat-based appeals compelling.
5) how people respond to the parenting battery does not necessarily reflect how they themselves parent. Their answers provide something closer to an idealized view of how they think children should interact with adults and, more broadly, what an appropriate social hierarchy might look like.
But the parenting battery appears to have striking explanatory power concerning how Americans think about politics. On a range of questions, relating to race, immigration, gay marriage, feelings toward Muslims, the use of force to resolve conflict and more, the differences in responses to the parenting battery correlate strongly with profoundly divergent attitudes on a range of hot button topics. These include some of the most pressing and emotionally charged issues with which American society has wrestled in recent years. And those differences also undergird the partisan divide that has grown up around an issue agenda about which there appears to be an ever-shrinking middle ground.
One could write many thousands more words explaining the countless caveats inherent in any broad social science research. But to repeat, Trump’s success, including Saturday night in South Carolina, across a broad swath of Republican voters, from veterans, to evangelicals, from college educated to the knotty and problematically conceived “white working class,” ought not to be a mystery. At least in significant measure, it’s the authoritarianism, as the piece below outlined.
And if anyone is wondering whether Trump appeared out of the blue, here’s what Marc and I wrote in 2006, three years before our book came out, about what we then identified as the growing authoritarian divide:
Importantly, issues likely to engage authoritarianism are among the most salient today. In 2004, gay marriage and the war on terror were particularly prominent. In 2005 and 2006, Republican elites served up constitutional amendments to ban flag burning and gay marriage, obstructed extension of the Voting Rights Act over multilingual ballots, pushed English as the nation's official language, passed congressional resolutions resisting withdrawal from Iraq, and proposed a long security fence between the United States and Mexico in response to illegal immigration.
Original post here:
[With all the talk about Trump's racial appeals and GOP anxieties about them, a friendly reminder that this is all forty-plus years in the making and that, at its core, it's a result of the extent to which high authoritarians have come to comprise the GOP base].
Ever since Donald Trump surged to the lead in the fight for the GOP presidential nomination, pundits have struggled to understand the Trump phenomenon. His somewhat eclectic views - he's a conservative apostate on tax increases for the wealthy, for example - and the particular intensity of the anger from which he seems to have drawn and stoked, often directed at conservative mainstays themselves, have all contributed to a sense that Trump is hard to place politically. Trump and his supporters, it seems, are not so clearly anchored in any identifiably traditional conservative constituency like, say, evangelicals, or white working-class voters (an issue to which I'll return).
But the basis of Trump's support isn't all that much of a mystery. In fact, his appeals are crafted - intentionally or not - to appeal to a bulwark of the contemporary Republican Party. That constituency is authoritarians.
As Marc Hetherington and I explained in our 2009 book, Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics, one of the key dynamics underlying the growing political chasm in the United States over the past generation has been the sorting of people with very different worldviews - anchored in polar personality types - into the two major political camps in America. As recently as 1992, when Bill Clinton first won the presidency, authoritarian-minded voters were about as likely to vote Democratic as they were to vote Republican. That is no longer the case. By 2004, white voters with an authoritarian bent had stampeded to the exits of the Democratic Party and joined the GOP. Conversely, the once large number of non-authoritarians who formerly supported Republicans had largely shifted their support to Team Blue. Those trends have only intensified since then, particularly in the age of Barack Obama. This development, the product in significant part of a decades-long shift in party appeals and changing demographics has fueled a bitterly acrimonious political divide characterized by fundamental and irreconcilable differences in worldview between the average Republican and the average Democrat.
While authoritarians have become central to the contemporary conservative coalition, they are not coterminous with it. In our book, we showed that Republicans, driven by the growing number of authoritarians in their ranks, had become increasingly intolerant of outgroups, including African Americans, gays, and Muslims. Likewise, a strong preference for black-and-white thinking in resolving major issues - like using military force to resolve global conflicts - had become characteristic of mainstream Republicanism, again influenced by the swelling numbers of authoritarians among their number.
So far, this sounds like a description of Republicans generally. But we also found that authoritarians were less reliably conservative on other key issues associated with the GOP. For example, the conservative economic agenda resonated less well with authoritarians than with other conservatives, quite consistent with how Trump is positioning himself. And though he's now pro-life, it's evident that Trump's newly minted views on that issue are half-hearted. As it happens, those scoring high in authoritarianism were themselves not especially distinguished in their support for the pro-life position. Those are two critical planks of the modern conservative platform and on neither are authoritarians particularly adamant, as a group.
What most fundamentally distinguishes authoritarians, as we explained in detail in our book, are three inter-related sets of attitudes about which they are adamant: 1) an especially strong propensity to divide the world into us vs. them and a concomitant intolerance of outgroups perceived as threats to America's existing social fabric; 2) projecting strength in the most straightforward, uncompromising way possible; and 3) the related perils following from the breakdown of law and order.
That, in a nutshell, is Trump's campaign.
In recent polling, the firm PPP asked GOP voters about President Obama's citizenship status. Overall, fully 44 percent of Republicans said they were convinced Obama was not born in the United States. That's a high number, to be sure, for a patently false and repeatedly debunked claim. But among Trump voters, the number rises to an astonishing 61 percent. Likewise, while a slight majority of GOP supporters believe the President is a Muslim, an extraordinary 66 percent of Trump supporters deem Obama a Muslim. Trump, of course, previously championed birtherism, so it's not altogether surprising that so many of his supporters deny Obama was born in America. But it's also precisely the kind of position that is emblematic of, above all, the authoritarian worldview. That view is predicated on an especially acute vigilance about who is a legitimate member of the American community and who is alien to that community. Whether focused on his place of birth or his (presumptively nefarious) religious affinities, Barack Obama is "other" personified for this group.
It's worth noting something else important about the Trump coalition and the personality-based divide that has become so important to understanding American politics today. When pundits talk about the role of "white working class" support for the GOP, they are, to some degree, making an analytical mistake. As we showed in our analysis of the Clinton/Obama primary fight in 2008, in our book, as well as in analysis of election data from 2010 and 2012, what distinguishes Democratic from Republican voters among whites isn't education level or income level. It's authoritarianism. The data are consistent in this - low authoritarian white folks with less than a college education, or who earn less than the median income, overwhelmingly support Democrats. Conversely, whites with high incomes and high education levels but who also score high in authoritarianism strongly support Republicans. In other words, it's not "working-class whites" per se, who support very conservative candidates. It's authoritarians, whether they are working class or not. This, too, is consistent with the composition of the (not-so-mysterious) Trump coalition.
There is, to be clear, more to the story of political polarization than personality type. Straight-up partisanship - pulling for your team and its positions no matter what - is a basic fact of political life on both sides of the American political divide and has become only more so in recent years. But it is possible to cut through a lot of the confusion surrounding the appeal of Trumpism if one recognizes that differences in fundamental worldview, anchored in basic personality differences, are a driving force in contemporary politics.
The question isn't what's in Trump's head. That's not really knowable, nor is it all that important. What is important is understanding what has galvanized support for him.
Trump has, as noted, refrained from jumping on the bandwagon of GOP orthodoxy in some respects. That could change next week. Regardless, those aren't positions he's made a centerpiece of his campaign. The issues he has hammered away at, the points of emphasis on which he has built the Trump brand, are what matter for understanding his broad appeal. There is lots of evidence to suggest that when it comes to those linchpins of his campaign - the bombast, the nativism, the relentless focus on strength and weakness, winners and losers -- he's hitting precisely the notes that authoritarians want to hear. And since they do make up a key block within the GOP, Trump may well be more than a passing fancy. Indeed, he's speaking to concerns vital to what has become the heart of the Republican base.
And he's doing so by eschewing some of the wonky policy details and other ephemera that prevent rival candidates, including other rabidly conservative ones, from asking the most basic question a political community has to answer: who's in, and who's out?