Heil Donald: Authoritarians support Trump. Why?
Yesterday, on Vox.com, an article by Matthew MacWilliams discussed his research finding that the single biggest predictor of Trump support in South Carolina is not income, race, or education, but:
Authoritarianism and a hybrid variable that links authoritarianism with a personal fear of terrorism were the only two variables that predicted, with statistical significance, support for Trump.
This makes sense to me, but correlation is not causation and other variables likely lurk in the background.
MY THEORY ON TRUMP SUPPORTERS HAS BEEN THEY SEE HIM AS A BIG “SCREW YOU” MESSAGE. THIS IDEA NEEDS TWEAKING.
They are angry about, fill in the blank here with financial problems, diversity, etc., and Trump sounds like a person who will “shake things up.” Most politicians speak carefully and in code fearing verbal missteps. Trump needs no decoding and that feels honest. While little on policy separates Republican candidates, Trump’s speech sets him apart as the blunt anti-politician who is what he says. Certainty is important to authoritarians.
MacWilliams research is a tremendous insight, leading to other considerations. A poll is a snapshot, so a current household income question misses financial decline over time. This research also does not capture individual discomfort with social changes such as gay marriage or growing ethnic diversity.
WE NEED TO EXAMINE HOW AUTHORITARIANS RESPOND TO STRESS.
People who score high on the authoritarian scale value conformity and order, protect social norms, and are wary of outsiders. And when authoritarians feel threatened, they support aggressive leaders and policies
“Feel threatened” is key here. People feel stress from economic challenges, Not just losing jobs — it is stressful constantly living a paycheck away from financial crisis. Then there is social change. Gay marriage feels appalling. Diversity means greater awareness of other people.
[Authoritarians] demonstrate a fear of “the other” as well as a readiness to follow and obey strong leaders. They tend to see the world in black-and-white terms. They are by definition attitudinally inflexible and rigid. And once they have identified friend from foe, they hold tight to their conclusions.
CONFORMITY. BLACK AND WHITE. AGGRESSIVE LEADERSHIP. THIS IS TRUMP.
Stress activates authoritarians and they easily connect with like-minded others, maybe less inclined but still so, and their conformity and intransigence becomes a growing electoral strength. Put two progressives in a room and you will get three action plans. Trump supporters simply follow the leader.
Comparison to Weimar is not new, but worth considering. The way to diffuse Trump’s growing support is to connect with authoritarian-leaning voters on their stressors with answers that make sense — before they decide to follow him. We will be unable to change most minds once set, but we can work to stop the spread of Trump support before time runs out.