Trump supporters have a lot in common. They lack education. They’re a bunch of horrible racists. They want to “make America great again” by viciously beating African-American protesters and homeless people. The idea of keeping brown people out of ‘Murika appeals to them. His appeal to racists is so great that white supremacists are actively campaigning for him and terrorist groups are using his hate speech to recruit. But did you know that one factor you haven’t thought of defines Trump support better than jingoism, racism, homophobia, extreme anti-Muslim sentiments, or a desire to build a gigantic wall so we never have to even look at a Hispanic person again?
That’s right — the primary factor that ties Trump supporters together is a propensity toward authoritarianism.
Politico‘s Matthew MacWilliams says he has discovered one factor that predicts whether or not someone is a Trump voter:
In fact, I’ve found a single statistically significant variable predicts whether a voter supports Trump—and it’s not race, income or education levels: It’s authoritarianism.
That’s right, Trump’s electoral strength—and his staying power—have been buoyed, above all, by Americans with authoritarian inclinations. And because of the prevalence of authoritarians in the American electorate, among Democrats as well as Republicans, it’s very possible that Trump’s fan base will continue to grow.
MacWilliams just finished conducting a national poll which sampled 1,800 voters across the nation. “I found that education, income, gender, age, ideology and religiosity had no significant bearing on a Republican voter’s preferred candidate,” he writes. “Only two of the variables I looked at were statistically significant: authoritarianism, followed by fear of terrorism, though the former was far more significant than the latter.”
MacWilliams explains that Trump’s pledge to make “America great again” as well as his horrific suggestions that Muslims be banned from the United States, wear special ID badges if they’re already here, and be rounded up into concentration camps (as well, of course, as his Great Wall of Murika), all cater to authoritarian inclinations:
Authoritarianism is not a new, untested concept in the American electorate. Since the rise of Nazi Germany, it has been one of the most widely studied ideas in social science. While its causes are still debated, the political behavior of authoritarians is not. Authoritarians obey. They rally to and follow strong leaders. And they respond aggressively to outsiders, especially when they feel threatened.
This, of course, describes Trump supporters perfectly. Frighteningly, authoritarianism (while prevalent among Republicans) is not limited to the Right.
“In the 2008 Democratic primary, the political scientist Marc Hetherington found that authoritarianism mattered more than income, ideology, gender, age and education in predicting whether voters preferred Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama,” MacWilliams notes. “But Hetherington has also found, based on 14 years of polling, that authoritarians have steadily moved from the Democratic to the Republican Party over time” since they began to embrace civil rights, gay rights, and other hallmarks of liberalism that are common in the party today.
MacWilliams notes that authoritarianism is not “a statistically significant factor in the Democratic primary race” thus far, but “it does appear to be playing an important role on the Republican side,” as 49 percent of Republicans score “in the top quarter of the authoritarian scale.”
MacWilliams’ poll asked voters some simple questions about parenting to gauge authoritarianism: “whether it is more important for the voter to have a child who is respectful or independent; obedient or self-reliant; well-behaved or considerate; and well-mannered or curious.”
“Based on these questions, Trump was the only candidate—Republican or Democrat—whose support among authoritarians was statistically significant,” he concludes. This, combined with the 52% of respondents who live in fear of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, gives us something to fear. While it’s easy to say President Trump “can’t happen here” — that Americans won’t stand for the ideological reincarnation of Adolf Hitler being elected — MacWilliams points out that it’s time that Democrats and all who oppose fascism begin taking Trump seriously.
Featured image via Gage Skidmore/Flickr