Wednesday, February 24, 2016

More on Trump and Authoritarianism.

As I was digesting the news earlier this morning, a couple articles stood out. One from NYT examined the tendency for Trump's supporters to be racially/ethnically intolerant (based on available polling data). The article is careful to point out that Trump hasn't actively encouraged racism, but is tapping into and exploiting a political undercurrent that was already there to begin with. That strikes me as sensible enough.

The other article that grabbed my eye was by Matthew MacWilliams, whom I have mentioned before. Once more he lays out his case for the link between authoritarianism and support for Trump. The other variable that seems to act as a predictor is fear of terrorism. One helpful thing about this particular column was that the author goes on to discuss how he has been measuring authoritarianism (itself a contentious issue in social psychology, political psychology, and political science) and provides at least some of the data analyses (at least in graph form) to make his case. Essentially, he uses a four question instrument to measure authoritarianism that largely focuses on parenting that appears to have been used successfully by previous political scientists studying the construct of authoritarianism. It helps to know how the variable is being measured as we evaluate his work. So far, it appears that those who score higher in authoritarian attitudes show higher levels of support for Trump. What is striking about the author's thesis is that the predictive link between fear of terrorism and support for Trump suggests that contrary to conventional wisdom, there may not be a ceiling for Trump support. To the extent that Trump can successfully exploit terrorist attacks occurring in the US (in particular if there is a link to, say, ISIS, as was the apparent case in the recent San Bernardino mass shooting) or in Europe, he may be able to gain traction as the primary season continues.

I'm also not surprised that Trump would periodically show support for the use of torture, as there is a link between authoritarian attitudes and attitudes for torture - something that has been found in some of my research that is currently in press, as well as by others. Anyway, this is fairly interesting work. Trump won't have to really do much to stoke racial or ethnic resentment, as the link between that variable and authoritarianism is well-established (most recently in an article I published last year), but if he continues to use fear-based rhetoric with regard to potential terrorist threats, he could be a formidable opponent and contender for the GOP nomination as the election season progresses. Assuming he wins the nomination, he could be a more formidable opponent for the eventual Democratic nominee than conventional wisdom has suggested as election season ramps up later this fall. The great unknown is whether our "Authoritarian Spring" will last past the early primaries. We'll see.