Do you know what the one unifying feature among all Trump supporters is? It’s not race, and it’s not education. It’s not even economic class.
It’s actually scarier than all that.
Conservatives without a Conscience
In 2006, social scientist Bob Altemeyer penned a PDF available for free online called “The Authoritarians.” The purpose of the book was to offer a critical look at the burgeoning authoritarian movement in the United States — it was shortly after Bush’s first election, and the right was feeling emboldened.
Liberals should remember those times: “America: Love it or Leave it” and “If you’re not with us, you’re with the terrorists” — how many of those invectives were hurled at you by your Republican friends when you attacked Bush?
Looking back at it, it’s amazing how fast conservatives spun to hating this country. I’ve never once heard a conservative say, under Barack Obama’s presidency, “It’s America: love it or leave it.” They’re all to eager to leave it, and if they can’t do that, they want to burn it to the ground.
And that’s the point of authoritarianism. The best insight into the authoritarian mind comes from a section in the text where Altemeyer describes how authoritarianism impacted the (in)famous Stanley Milgram shock experiment, something every first-year psychology and social science student learns about:
The “Milgram experiment,” which we shall discuss at the end of this book, offers another example of authoritarian followers “going easy” on authorities. In his famous study Stanley Milgram maneuvered subjects into a situation in which they were ordered by an Experimenter to inflict painful, and possibly lethal, electric shocks on another person (who in fact was not hurt at all). The subjects clearly did not want to deliver the shocks, but the Experimenter told them they had to. The Experimenter even said, if pressed, that he would accept responsibility for whatever happened. Yet Tom Blass of the University of Maryland at Baltimore found that high RWA students tended to blame the Experimenter less for what happened to the victim than most students did. Whom did they blame instead? I found, when I replicated the study, they blamed the poor devil who was ordered to deliver the shocks, and the victim, more than most others did.
RWA stands for Right-Wing Authoritarian.
So long as it’s authority they agree with, the authority can do no wrong. That’s why Bush was so beloved despite destroying this country with petty wars and deregulation, and what brings us to Donald Trump.
See, the one defining trait that distinguishes Trump’s supporters?
They’re authoritarian, and this inclination towards authoritarianism is what has buoyed and supported Trump from the beginning.
During the last five days of December, a national poll conducted by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, sampled 1,800 registered voters from across the country and across the political spectrum. After using a variety of statistical analyses, the individual leading the survey, Matthew McWilliams, found various social factors like income, gender, education, age, ideology, religiosity, and others, didn’t have a major impact on the preferential Republican candidate.
Only two variables statistically significant enough to matter were the fear of terrorism and authoritarianism, the later of which had more bearing.
Most of those authoritarians come from the political right, but not all of them; while there are twice as many Republican-leaning authoritarians than there are Democrat- or Independent-leaning authoritarians, the latter two categories still exist. It’s also a component that’s been overlooked by pollsters.
This is especially troubling, because it means Trump’s support isn’t capped; 43 percent of the Republican primary base and 37 percent of the Republican party overall polled as authoritarian. So he can handily win the primary election.
What about the general election? Trump’s strongman rhetoric is likely to net some of the 39 percent of independents and 17 percent of Democrats who are also strong authoritarians. Couple this with the growing fear of terrorism — nearly 52 percent of voters most fear another terrorist attack, and the majority are non-authoritarians. That’s an audience already primed for Trump’s message and rhetoric.
People who claim that Trump can’t win should probably check their premises. The conditions are right for an authoritarian leader; these two populations, added to the base of Republican general election voters, could easily pave the way for a Trump presidency.
Feature image via Wikimedia Commons