Friday, March 4, 2016

Who Are Trump's Supporters and What Do They Want?

Imagine you're being interviewed for a survey. It has only four questions:

  1. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have:

    independence or respect for elders?

  2. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have:

    self-reliance or obedience?

  3. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have:

    to be considerate or to be well-behaved?

  4. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have:

    curiosity or good manners?

[More below... but first, a pause while you think of your own responses.]

The answers to those questions, as provided by the voters of America, tell us how we've gotten to now. Valuing the latter of each pair for most or all of the questions correlates with what's called an authoritarian personality. These kinds of people used to be relatively equally distributed between the Democratic and Republican parties, but no more.

From Amanda Taub's story on, The Rise of American Authoritarianism:
In the 1960s, the Republican Party had reinvented itself as the party of law, order, and traditional values — a position that naturally appealed to order- and tradition-focused authoritarians. Over the decades that followed, authoritarians increasingly gravitated toward the GOP, where their concentration gave them more and more influence over time.
And this:
People do not support extreme policies and strongman leaders just out of an affirmative desire for authoritarianism, but rather as a response to experiencing certain kinds of threats.
(I would qualify that quote to read "certain kinds of [perceived] threats.")

Authoritarians feel threatened by social change, as well as physical threats. They think marriage equality is threatening, multiculturalism is threatening, and just about everything else. Check out this graph (right) on how they feel about marriage equality.

But even people who are not authoritarian can start to behave like authoritarians when they perceive a physical threat (gee... maybe September 11 or Paris or...), though they don't respond that way to social change. Which may sound familiar:
if social change and physical threats coincided at the same time, it could awaken a potentially enormous population of American authoritarians, who would demand a strongman leader and the extreme policies necessary, in their view, to meet the rising threats.
Taub worked with pollsters to come up with some data on authoritarianism among Americans. The depressing results:
  • 44 percent of white respondents nationwide scored as "high" or "very high" authoritarians, with 19 percent as "very high."
  • More than 65 percent of people who scored highest on the authoritarianism questions were GOP voters. More than 55 percent of surveyed Republicans scored as "high" or "very high" authoritarians.
  • People whose scores were most non-authoritarian — meaning they always chose the non-authoritarian parenting answer — were almost 75 percent Democrats.
  • Trump has 42 percent support among Republicans but, according to our survey, a full 52 percent support among very high authoritarians.
  • Authoritarianism was the best single predictor of support for Trump.
  • People who rated high on authoritarianism think there's a high risk of a terrorist attack (73 percent).
  • A subgroup of non-authoritarians were very afraid of threats like Iran or ISIS. And the more fear of these threats they expressed, the more likely they were to support Trump.
As the story wraps up,
Republican politicians and Republican-leaning media such as Fox News have been telling viewers nonstop that the world is a terrifying place and that President Obama isn't doing enough to keep Americans safe.
Fear puts viewers' butts on the couch and sells ads. So, lots of economic incentive to continue business as usual. Why broadcast the thoughts of people who can analyze our problems and supply solutions, when fear, uncertainty, and doubt sells more ads?

What do authoritarians want? 

It's not small government. They want to use government power "to eliminate the threats — that is most clear among Trump supporters." Trump supporters were highly likely to advocate these policies:
  1. Using military force over diplomacy against countries that threaten the United States
  2. Changing the Constitution to bar citizenship for children of illegal immigrants
  3. Imposing extra airport checks on passengers who appear to be of Middle Eastern descent in order to curb terrorism
  4. Requiring all citizens to carry a national ID card at all times to show to a police officer on request, to curb terrorism
  5. Allowing the federal government to scan all phone calls for calls to any number linked to terrorism
Which is pretty much the inverse of the country I want to live in. And it ends with this depressing thought, or (I have to admit) reality:
If Trump loses the election, that will not remove the threats and social changes that trigger the "action side" of authoritarianism. The authoritarians will still be there. They will still look for candidates who will give them the strong, punitive leadership they desire.
The only solution is to make people less afraid -- especially the less authoritarian people, who seem like a more reachable audience than the hard-core authoritarians. Maybe lithium in the water isn't such a bad idea.


Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

This makes sense in a frightening way. I hope you don't mind that I posted a link to it on my Facebook page.

Daughter Number Three said...

Definitely okay -- thanks!