Trump and authoritarianism

Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler have done some great work on Authoritarianism in American politics.  Here, Weiler brings that work to bear in understanding Trump:

What most fundamentally distinguishes authoritarians, as we explained in detail in our book, are three inter-related sets of attitudes about which they are, collectively, 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…

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.

Sounds pretty much exactly right.  Would love to see some data with authoritarian questions and attitudes towards Trump, but I think we can be pretty sure what that data would show.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to Trump and authoritarianism

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    The concept of the authoritarian personality backs up Hillary Clinton’s statement to the Black Lives Matter representatives. She said that it is more productive to pass laws than it is to try to change hearts because when a law is made with a civil rights act authoritarians do tend to respect the issue settled, in the long run. And in the long run, hearts do change as young people grow up with the law in place,
    Yes, there is opposition to the new right to marry law but data shows that younger people as group do not object to the idea as strongly as their elders. Similar data exists about racial attitudes.

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