Authoritarianism

AUTHORITARIANISM….Since 1992, the National Election Study has asked respondents four questions that collectively make up an “authoritarian index.” The four questions ask you to specify which of two attributes you value more in children:

  1. Independence vs respect for elders

  2. Self-reliance vs. obedience

  3. Curiosity vs. good manners

  4. Being considerate vs. being well behaved

The first item in each pair marks you as less authoritarian and the second item marks you as more authoritarian. After you’ve answered all four, the scores are added up and normalized on a scale from 0 to 1, with 1 being the most authoritarian.

It will come as no surprise that authoritarians tend to vote Republican. What may surprise you, though, is that this has only become true in recent years. Over at the Democratic Strategist, Jonathan Weiler and Marc Hetherington tell the tale:

In 1992, authoritarianism barely had an effect on partisanship. Other things being equal, authoritarians tended to score about 7 percentage points toward the Republican end of the seven-point partisanship scale. By 2004, however, that 7 percentage point difference between authoritarians and non-authoritarians had ballooned to more than 20 percentage points.

….Authoritarianism’s effect in 2004 was also strong relative to other variables. Its effect was substantially smaller than that of income in 1992. By 2004, its effect was twice that of income. In 1992, its effect was less than one-fifth as strong as the effect of government spending preferences. By 2004, the effects were much closer. It is not that the traditional left-right dimension in American politics is unimportant. What has changed is how relevant authoritarianism has become.

Weiler and Hetherington also report another interesting trend: in the past, strong authoritarians were alienated individuals who tended not to vote. Today’s Republican Party, however, has succeeded in mobilizing them in greater numbers. You can read the article to get the stats, but the bottom line is this:

Appeals to authoritarian issues are mobilizing non-voters into the Republican camp, making non-voters and Republican voters nearly indistinguishable in their authoritarianism. This formerly disaffected group has found a political home.

….Republicans always benefit from increasing public fears, whether about gays, terrorism, illegal immigration, or anything that activates authoritarianism. It makes people who only have a little authoritarianism share the preferences of those who have a lot. The political implications of this fact for Republican fortunes are clear.

It makes people who only have a little authoritarianism share the preferences of those who have a lot. Appeals to fear move even moderates toward the authoritarian end of the scale. Fear is the conservative’s friend, never the liberal’s.