Thursday 25 February 2016

Kissing The Whip: Electoral Politics And The Authoritarian Personality.

Sure To Rise? The rather alarming conclusion of a recent Politico article by Matthew MacWilliams is that Trump’s support among American voters has yet to peak, and may be much larger than the political pundits have so far been willing to admit. His research indicated that “a single statistically significant variable predicts whether a voter supports Trump—and it’s not race, income or education levels: It’s authoritarianism.”
JUST OVER A MONTH AGO, the American website, Politico, ran a fascinating article about the supporters of Donald Trump. Matthew MacWilliams, a political communications specialist working his way toward a PhD in Political Science, noted a curious fact about Trump supporters. His research indicated that “a single statistically significant variable predicts whether a voter supports Trump—and it’s not race, income or education levels: It’s authoritarianism.”
The “Authoritarian Personality” has been the subject of scholarly interest since the 1930s. The German sociologist, Wilhelm Reich, led the way with his ground-breaking book The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933). Reich’s study examined the role of sexual repression in the development of authoritarianism – linking the rigid moral system of the German family with the German people’s dangerous affinity for the Nazi Party worldview.
In the United States, academic refugees from Nazi Germany contributed to a highly influential book, The Authoritarian Personality (1950). At the heart of the book was a psychological profiling tool which its creator, Theodore Adorno, called the “F-Scale” (the “F” stood for “Fascist”).
The F-Scale reflected the experiences that contributed most to the development of an authoritarian personality. The authors took a Freudian view of character formation, arguing that:  “Excessively harsh and punitive parenting was posited to cause children to feel immense anger towards their parents; yet fear of parental disapproval or punishment caused people to not directly confront their parents, but rather to identify with and idolize authority figures” (Source: Wikipedia entry on The Authoritarian Personality)
MacWilliams’ article reveals that the voters most likely to support Donald Trump for President  are the people who pick the first option in the following four propositions pertaining to child-rearing: “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. Respondents who pick the first option in each of these questions are strongly authoritarian.”
The rather alarming conclusion of MacWilliam’s article is that Trump’s support among American voters has yet to peak, and may be much larger than the political pundits have so far been willing to admit:
“So, those who say a Trump presidency ‘can’t happen here’ should check their conventional wisdom at the door. The candidate has confounded conventional expectations this primary season because those expectations are based on an oversimplified caricature of the electorate in general and his supporters in particular. Conditions are ripe for an authoritarian leader to emerge. Trump is seizing the opportunity. And the institutions – from the Republican Party to the press – that are supposed to guard against what James Madison called “the infection of violent passions” among the people have either been cowed by Trump’s bluster or are asleep on the job.”
The Politico article raises some interesting questions about the psychological drivers of voter behaviour in New Zealand. How pervasive is the authoritarian personality in New Zealand society? Might its prevalence in any way be inferred from the extraordinary reaction of so many New Zealanders to the so-called “anti-smacking” legislation? Was the extent and vehemence of that reaction an indication – both of the incidence of authoritarian attitudes within the New Zealand population, and their ultimate cause? Are parental violence and repression the defining characteristics of a majority of Kiwi childhoods? And, if they are, does that suggest that a worryingly large number of New Zealanders are likely to score highly on the F-Scale?
We might also ask ourselves whether the following three “attitudinal and behavioural clusters” are readily recognisable in right-wing New Zealand voters?
Authoritarian submission – a high degree of submissiveness to the authorities who are perceived to be established and legitimate in the society in which one lives.
Authoritarian aggression – a general aggressiveness directed against deviants, outgroups, and other people that are perceived to be targets according to established authorities.
Conventionalism – a high degree of adherence to the traditions and social norms that are perceived to be endorsed by society and its established authorities, and a belief that others in one’s society should also be required to adhere to these norms.
The important point to note about authoritarian character traits is that they occur on both sides of the traditional political divide. American sociologists found that, in the United States, authoritarians were among the most vociferous supporters of the prevailing capitalist system. In the Soviet Union, by way of contrast, the authoritarian personality manifested itself in unwavering support for the communist regime. For authoritarians, what the people in charge believe matters much less than the enduring reality of their control.
Donald Trump’s (or, for that matter, John Key’s) bluster and bullying is thus a critical factor in his political success. By signalling that he is in control: that he is bigger and stronger and smarter and more powerful than his political rivals; he convinces his authoritarian followers that he is the only legitimate leader on offer. He will never compromise with, or apologise to, his opponents; nor will be kowtow to the news media; because he knows that the slightest sign of equivocation will immediately call into question his claim to the allegiance of his authoritarian followers.
And if the trajectory of the Trump campaign (and the enduring popularity of John Key’s National-led Government) is anything to go by – it’s those authoritarian followers who win elections.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 24 February 2016.


Anonymous said...

I didn't vote for Key but I think linking him to Trump/authoritarianism is weak. It has to be kept in mind that the US electoral system means that politically, the country looks a lot more republican and authoritarian than the actual underlying populace - and that's before we get into the limitations on the right to vote. If the US had something like MMP its politics mightn't be the same as ours but would definitely be to the left of its current gravitational pull. In the case of Key I'm guessing he is socially liberal, rather than just acting that way, but the point is the NZ populace is, and under MMP that can find consistent expression through time, so there is no sustained and politically successful place for authoritarianism in NZ. Yes there was opposition to Sue Bradford's bill - but it lost and the new regime is surely permanent. Yes there was opposition to the Homosexual Reform Bill - but it lost and it definitely is permanent. Etc. I think it's hard to link any authoritarian case to modern day NZ. Yes we see flashes (e.g. Tuhoe raids) heavily orchestrated by powerful figures and institutions, and yes there will be support in the community, sometimes a sizable minority. But the weight of trends in NZ is strongly progressive, and it's hard to think of a fundamental liberal cause (women's rights, rights of the child, racism etc) that any authoritarian drive could overcome. So as I say, I think the Key link fails.

Gerrit said...

I think it is far simpler. We gravity (by primal instinct?) to alpha leaders (male or female). Therein lies the problem for Labour and the Greens locally, their leaders are just not strong on alpha qualities.

If we look back at NZL politics we see alpha quality in spades (Clark, Kirk, Savage, Muldoon, Key) and some who just did not cut it as alpha people (Rowlings, McLay, English, Cunliffe, Little - Mayor Len Brown is a classic example).

None of the Republican candidates except Trump has the alpha quality. Hence his popularity.

Now does that lead to Fascism? Not in an effective democracy. Only if the democracy is over deriden by un-elected officials as has happened in the Auckland City Council where weak governance has very nearly created a fascist local government, saved at the last minute by Councillors growing a pair and listening to the people (democracy kicked in at the last minute).

pat said...

or maybe a different reason...

Guerilla Surgeon said...

An article called "the authoritarians" by Bob Altemeyer (a Canadian professor) is available for free download. At least I downloaded it for nothing. You might have to google it, because I've forgotten where I got it from. He actually offers solutions as well. :)
Gerritt. Your alpha/beta stuff is way, way out of date. There are not simply two types of men/leaders. And so-called alphas are not necessarily attractive. As usual, it's a lot more complex than you think.

jh said...

Speaking for myself the bit I like about Trump is the way he stands up to the progressive/liberal elite. The news media and liberal political establishment have become a wall where a large body of opinion and concerns have been shut out.

Authoritarianism is marked by "indefinite political tenure" of the ruler or ruling party (often in a one-party state) or other authority. The transition from an authoritarian system to a more democratic form of government is referred to as democratization.

Mai Chen's Superdiversity Roadshow is a good example of group dominance of the media.

Unknown said...

@ Gerrit
what does alpha speak to? Certainly not fuzzy ideas like diversity.

Anonymous said...

Im not sure how you link John Key to Donald Trump - far from being bullying and domineering, hes affable and easy going, really the opposite of Trump. I guess as a leftist you detest Key and link him to Trump Hitler, Stalin or whatever political nasty you can think of, weak blog post Chris, if you hate Key - just snarl it out, better still scribble it on a dildo and chuck it at him.

jh said...

There is an assumption here that Trump is wrong and the authorities need to counter that?

Take the way the parties in France contrived to block Le Penn's party in local elections.

also in NZ
The politicization of immigration in New Zealand has contributed to a growing public ambivalence about immigration and its contribution to the development of New Zealand's society and economy. Briefing papers prepared for the recently re-elected Labor government signal a number of concerns about current levels of immigration in general and the impact of immigration on Auckland's society and economy in particular. Minister of Immigration Lianne Dalziel has indicated that several aspects of the current policy, in addition to the level of English required by prospective residents, will be reviewed over the next few months.

Notwithstanding this ambivalence, there seems to be clear recognition and acceptance that New Zealand society is going to become more diverse in terms of ethnic and cultural groups over the next 20 years. Immigration will play a major part in this diversification of communities, especially immigration from countries in Asia. Fortunately, there seems to be a broad consensus among the main political parties as well as many of the minor ones that this is not something to be feared or resisted at all costs. In this regard, there appears to be some consensus of party view (excluding the position adopted by New Zealand First) that continued immigration at or above present levels will produce positive outcomes for the country's economy and society.

In part this approach to immigration policy reflects the long-standing culture of international migration into and out of New Zealand. It also reflects increasing recognition by policy makers that the root causes of immigration lie largely beyond their reach in the forces of the global economy. Likewise, the protection of human rights constrains the ability of the New Zealand government to respond to the racial and ethnic concerns of voters and to impose harshly restrictive measures on immigrants or their dependents. What is perhaps significant about the current discourse is a genuine concern among some politicians, journalists, and academics to ensure that the public is better informed about international migration in New Zealand before the immigration debate becomes dominated by a destructive, xenophobic rhetoric.
That's your authoritarian thesis dismissed?

Andrew Nichols said...

I'm a lot less worried by a Trump POTUS win than I would be with Clinton.

Anonymous said...

Donald Trump reminds me of the late Kerry Packer of Australian fame, I said last week that Trump will win the GOP nomination but not win the presidency.
I have revised that opinion to where I believe that he will win both the GOP and the presidency.
If Donald Trump was an Australian or New Zealander he would be classed as a wild colonial boy.
There is nothing authoritarian about him, he's working hard and having fun.
When he becomes President he will deliver to the American people and the Trump American government will forge strong bonds to Russia.
The British/ Europeans will follow America and at last Russia will get the recognition they deserve for their massive contribution to defeat of fascism in the second world war.
He will also dump on American State and Federal bureaucracy.
The American working man and women have been kicked in the guts by both the Republican and Democrat political elitist for to long. They are searching for a leader and they don't care about his manners.
Go the revolution. Go the Donald.

Alan Ivory said...

Here's the link to The Authoritarians mentioned by Guerilla Surgeon above.

Anonymous said...

If we look back at NZL politics we see alpha quality in spades (Clark, Kirk, Savage, Muldoon, Key) and some who just did not cut it as alpha people (Rowlings, McLay, English, Cunliffe, Little - Mayor Len Brown is a classic example).

How on earth was Savage an "alpha" figure? He was the face of the First Labour Government, but Nash and Fraser did the heavy lifting.

(I'd also put forward the example of Keith Holyoake as a highly successful non-alpha).

John said...

I think trying to say Key has is a similar authoritarian figure as Trump, is well off the mark - he's more like the opposite.

The problem with taking a large group of voters, and simplistically shoving them into one single pigeonhole, is that for the vast majority of them you're going to be totally and utterly wrong.

Gerrit said...

For an authoritative regime to start requires an authoritative (alpha) leader. Is Trump an authoritative (alpha) leader? Not in the mold of a JFK but still an alpha leader.

Could he turn the USA into an authoritative state? Yes, but will democratic safeguards prevent that? Hope so.

If we look at authoritative regimes such as in Venezuela we find that with the alpha leader gone and no replacement of alpha stature to replace him, the regime flat lines and will eventually run out of steam.

For one of the problems an alpha leader has is that it cannot brook an equal as an understudy and thus a continuation of the regime is halted.

The most glaring example locally of an alpha leader not letting a new leader grow into the alpha leadership role was Helen Clark. Labour is still suffering and has had no change to grow a new alpha leader.

Key has the same problem in that he has to keep the only alpha leader (Collins) capable of dethroning him as party leader, at arms lengths. In the tent but kept under tight rein. He is doing that but the writing is on the wall for Key after the next election.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

For God's sake Gerrit, will you stop with the alpha stuff. It's bullshit! Apart from the fact that scientists say is bullshit you haven't defined it. Someone is an alpha leader because I say they are. why don't you tell us what those fantastic alpha qualities are?
Trump is authoritative? Well in one sense I guess, he's certainly confident. But from my perspective he's as barmy as a boxful of badgers. I would describe him as authoritarian, (which is the word you should have used the second time you used authoritative) and narcissistic. God help us, sometimes this site is like being on bloody whale oil.

Unknown said...

The head of Google Search denies my claim that Google can control elections--well, sort of; if you read closely, you'll find that he denies nothing.

Richard McGrath said...

@Gerrit - the problem with Venezuela has been the totalitarian nature of its current government, and the purity of its socialist policies which has led inevitably to economic ruin.