Donald Trump’s presidential success has had many people wondering why someone voted for a man who doesn’t shy away from controversy, someone who undoubtedly subjects himself to a racist, misogynistic and xenophobic narrative and has no real political experience. Donald Trump has impressed and won the vote of mainly uneducated older white people, but he has also enticed the upper class, highly educated people, moderate and conservative Republicans, Independents and even some minorities. Why did they vote for Trump? Well, according to political scientists it is much easier to explain than you might have thought. This is known as authoritarianism, which allows us to gain a better understanding of the ideology behind a Trump supporter.
Authoritarianism is established to be the enforcement or advocacy of strict obedience to authority, particularly in government, at the expense of personal freedom. Political scientists use this term for a worldview that values authority, and people who fear or despise social change are more likely to be authoritarian. When they feel vulnerable or threatened, authoritarians seek strongman leaders. However, authoritarianism is somewhat of a complex concept, as it can be found in an array of people on the political spectrum, which means that those who are left-wing can also display authoritarian tendencies. Authoritarianism throughout history has been somewhat equally divided into both the Democratic and Republican parties, but it isn’t until recently that political scientists have noticed that the ratio of authoritarians in both parties has become slightly disproportionate, as authoritarians have shifted into the Republican party. This is how political scientists were able to find that authoritarians are more likely to support Trump.
Testing for authoritarianism can often be difficult, as you can’t just ask people, “do you like black people” or “does social change scare you” because it is unlikely that you well get a truthful answer. Instead, in the 1990s, political scientist Stanley Feldman, a professor at SUNY Stonybrook, convinced the National Election Survey, a large survey of American voters conducted in each national election years, to include four questions that appeared to be about parenting but was really about authoritarianism and how much a person values order and authority. Feldman asked, what is more important for a child to have?
- Independence or respect for elders
- Obedience or self-reliance
- Considerate or to be well-behaved
- Curiosity or good manners
Those who pick the first options are more likely to be authoritarian.
During the beginning of the year, political scientist Matthew MacWilliams conducted a national poll under the support of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, among 18,000 registered voters across the country and political spectrum. MacWilliams found that education, income, gender, age, ideology and religion had no substantial impact on a Republican voter’s preferred candidate. His results showed that it was in fact authoritarianism and the fear of terrorism that was more apparent. MacWilliams’ polls revealed that, based on the four questions about parenting, Trump was the only candidate (Republican or Democrat) who was supported by authoritarians by a statistically significant amount and, compared to the other factors, authoritarianism was virtually the best factor when predicting Trump support.
Further research on authoritarianism conducted by Vox and Morning Consult showed again that authoritarianism plays a predictable role within Trump supporters, as they found that the correlation between authoritarians and Trump supporters was very close. They also conducted polls on fears, in order to find more authoritarian inclinations. They found that fears such as car accidents and addictive prescription drugs among authoritarians and non-authoritarians weren’t that significantly different, but it appears that fears of threats abroad are significantly more common in authoritarians.
Authoritarians fear and want to be protected from threats like terrorism or anything remotely foreign, and who can do that for them? Well, apparently Donald Trump can. That’s why authoritarian tendencies are commonly found in Trump supporters because his entire campaign was about “making America great again.” Trump promised to build a wall across the Southern border to ensure that immigrants won’t enter the US, after proclaiming that Mexico was “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Trump’s strategy to defeat ISIS has been fairly vague, but he stated at one of his rallies that he would “bomb the sh*t out of them.” Trump’s narrative from the start has catered to those who fear these things, which is why Trump’s rhetoric attracts authoritarians. So, really, it’s not at all hard to see why these people voted for him.