Authoritarianism: The political science that explains Trump

Authoritarianism: The political science that explains Trump


“He’s a war hero because he was captured.
I like people who weren’t captured ok? I hate to tell you.” The 2016 Republican presidential nominee disregards
the norms of adult behavior. He disregards the norms of American democracy
as we know it. “It should be heartbreaking to every American
that we have a frontrunner who suggests there will be a religious test for anybody that
wishes to come to our shores.” He’s so unusual, his rhetoric at times so
extreme, that political experts and commentators were blindsided by his rise. “We better be ready for the fact that he might be leading the republican ticket.” [Laughter] “I know you don’t believe that” How did Donald Trump attract such broad support
within the Republican party? And what does it mean for the US, beyond this election? And it turns out that this is
a question that can be answered to a really surprising extent via this niche field of
political science. It developed a theory about what’s called authoritarianism. We’re not talking about dictatorships here.
Authoritarianism is a term political scientists use for a worldview that values order and
authority, and distrusts outsiders and social change. And when authoritarians feel threatened, they
look for strongman leaders. Leaders who are punitive, who target
out-groups and have a simple, forceful leadership style that makes them feel strong. And if
you were going to grow that candidate in a lab… “I’m going to bomb the shit out of
them.” He would look a lot like Donald Trump. “When you get these terrorists, youhave to take out their families. They care about their lives. Don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives. You have to take out their families. Authoritarianism is not, in an of itself,
necessarily a partisan issue. For most of this country’s history, authoritarians
were likely divided between the two parties. But now, only one of the parties really appeals
to them. What happened was the Republican party
started to embrace what it referred to as traditional values, and it stood against a
series of major social changes in this country. After initially supporting civil rights, Republicans
began courting southern white voters who opposed racial integration. They turned against the
Equal Rights Amendment, denounced abortion, and later, fought against same-sex marriage. Our nation must enact a Constitutional
amendment to protect marriage in America. More recently, foreign threats like terrorism
have become major political issues, with Republicans taking positions that align with authoritarian
fears and preferences. 2002 headline: Republicans get a bonus from
War on Terrorism So Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler,
two political scientists. They tracked data over several decades, and they found that
authoritarian voters were shifting into the Republican Party. So that means that when
authoritarians become scared, when they become activated by a particular social change or
issue, the Republican Party can’t ignore them. And they are a ready-made constituency
for a candidate like Donald Trump. Are you going to have a massive deportation force? “You’re going to have a deportation force.” “’d bring back waterboarding. And I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” Testing people for authoritarianism is a bit
tricky. You can’t just ask people, you know, ‘Are you really freaked out by social change?
Do racial differences unsettle you? ‘Do you support strongman leaders?’ because
those are very sensitive questions and people won’t necessarily answer them honestly. So instead, political scientists ask people
about something more neutral: their parenting preferences. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: independence, or respect
for elders? Obedience or self-reliance? These questions seem like they’re about
raising children, but really what they’re asking people is how much they value order
and authority. So when political scientists tested these 4 parenting questions against the behaviors
they knew authoritarians exhibited, they found out that the correlation was very close. It was very predictive, at least for white voters. Using this 4-question test, Vox worked with
Morning Consult in February to poll a large sample of likely voters. Our results yielded a few really interesting things. The first one was that, yes, scoring
high on the authoritarianism questions was very predictive of support for Trump. A political science PhD student named Matthew
MacWilliams has found similar results. He’s done 2 polls, both of which found that authoritarianism is not only strongly
predictive of Trump support, but that it seems to do a better job of predicting it than virtually
any other factor. We also looked at what authoritarian voters
are afraid of. On things like gun violence, or car accidents, or prescription drugs, there wasn’t a huge difference between authoritarians and nonauthoritarians. But
when it came to threats associated with people, and particularly foreign people, authoritarians
were much more afraid. And we identified policies that authoritarians
were more likely to support. So authoritarians were much more likely to say for instance that the United States
should use force rather than diplomacy when dealing with countries that threaten our interests
overseas. And they were much more likely to want to sacrifice civil liberties in exchange
for safety. “I want surveillance of certain mosques,
ok? If that’s ok. I want surveillance.” It’s a set of priorities that doesn’t
always align with the Republican establishment. They don’t seem to have that much
interest in small government. And they definitely don’t seem particularly interested in shrinking entitlements like Social Security or Medicaid. This theory doesn’t fully explain the Trump
phenomenon — researchers will probably study this election for decades. But what it tells us is that he’s benefitted from a larger shift in this country – one that goes beyond any
one candidate. Trump isn’t just a fluke. He’s not somebody who is just doing well because he had name recognition or was a famous TV star. This is a large group of people. They want these things. And they’re going to be looking for politicians
who can give it to them. And that means that Donald Trump could be just the first of many Trumps in American politics.