Donald Trump

If You Support Trump, You May Be an Authoritarian (Also: If You Support Clinton, Rubio, Sanders, Cruz …)

He's hardly alone in wanting to use government force to control others.


Only bad people are authoritarians. The rest of us are just … protective.

Reason has not been shy about pointing out Donald Trump's lack of interest in liberty and freedom in what motivates his so-far-extremely-successful campaign for president (check out Damon Root's cover story from our December issue).

That Trump would appeal to authoritarians should come as no surprise. His campaign is focused solely on results and seemingly has little interest in legal or moral barriers to the process of getting from point A to point B. So when a piece from Politico over the weekend, written by a Matthew MacWilliams, a political science student studying authoritarianism, with the clickbait headline "The One Weird Trait That Predicts Whether You Are A Trump Supporter," started showing up in my social media newsfeeds from friends on both the left and the right, I didn't bat an eye.

For those who didn't see the piece, MacWilliams polled 1,800 registered voters and determined that among those Republicans who were supporting Trump over other candidates, there were only two variables they seem have in common. It wasn't race, wealth, education, or age or typical demographics: It was how strongly authoritarian MacWilliams calculated them to be and how much they feared terrorism. But, MacWilliams said, the authoritarian component was much more important.

But how exactly does somebody determine how authoritarian people are? People don't generally admit to being authoritarian, really. MacWilliams explains the four questions he used to figure it out:

In addition to the typical battery of demographic, horse race, thermometer-scale and policy questions, my poll asked a set of four simple survey questions that political scientists have employed since 1992 to measure inclination toward authoritarianism. These questions pertain 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.

Based on these questions, Trump was the only candidate—Republican or Democrat—whose support among authoritarians was statistically significant.

When I read this, my thoughts fell along the line of "Respectful to whom? Obedient to whom? Who is defining 'well-mannered?'" Those questions were only heightened by MacWilliams analysis of where trends of authoritarian attitudes among Americans have gone:

Not all authoritarians are Republicans by any means; in national surveys since 1992, many authoritarians have also self-identified as independents and Democrats. And 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. 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. He hypothesizes that the trend began decades ago, as Democrats embraced civil rights, gay rights, employment protections and other political positions valuing freedom and equality. [Emphasis added] In my poll results, authoritarianism was not a statistically significant factor in the Democratic primary race, at least not so far, but it does appear to be playing an important role on the Republican side. Indeed, 49 percent of likely Republican primary voters I surveyed score in the top quarter of the authoritarian scale—more than twice as many as Democratic voters.

Here's my social science red flag alert. Suddenly we're getting subjective about concepts like obedience and respect. If we were to ask who showed a greater interest in respect and obedience for laws that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which party would present as more authoritarian?

The problem is that some social scientists don't see authoritarianism in that dimension. We talk about this sort of blindness frequently when we discuss civil rights laws and the fact that proponents are often either unable or disinterested in differentiating between government and private discrimination. Using the law to ban discriminatory practices by private employers or to demand private business do things like make wedding cakes for gay couples is an expression of government authority. This is a separate matter from whether these laws are good or bad, depending on one's values. It is nevertheless an expression of an authoritarian attitude.

So it raises the question of whether authoritarian attitudes have actually moved from the Democratic to the Republican parties over time, or whether the definition of "authoritarian" has been co-opted into the culture wars between the left and the right. Would the ranchers in Oregon who have taken over Malheur National Wildlife Refuge count as "authoritarian" or "anti-authoritarian"? Better yet, why not take this quiz and take a look at how much it bases "authoritarian" attitudes on support of religious cultural conservative values, even though not all questions indicate a desire to use the government to enforce them? Then imagine those you know who would brag about getting a low score on such a test who have also tweeted or posted on Facebook that the authorities should have broken up those protests in Oregon and thrown the lot of them in jail.

I have a hard time believing that a Democratic Party choosing between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders doesn't have heavy authoritarian tendencies. Both candidates are proposing significant amounts of new laws and regulations to control citizen behavior. Because they're doing so out of a sense of social or economic fairness doesn't make it less "authoritarian." Just ask citizens of Venezuela.

MacWilliams is not wrong about Trump's supporters, clearly. But from the perspective of a libertarian with no ties to either party or any of the ideologies motivating the major candidates, I think he (and social science) is underestimating the amount of authoritarian attitudes emanating from the left because of how they perceive the term. Indeed, I would go so far to say Trump's campaign is actually an extension of the inclination to use government force to solve citizens' concerns under both parties. The difference is that they're no longer even pretending it's about something else.


NEXT: A 19-Year-Old Rightly Complains That 'Prohibition Still Applies to Us'

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  1. Authoritarian = Right Wing Republican. Liberal Democrat = Freedom and liberty loving. I thought this was already well known.

    1. Seems pretty obvious to me. Republicans believe in using authority to push their evil schemes at the expense of those poor souls who are marginalized and can’t compete with that authority. Democrats just want to do what is best for the country (and the world) and are courageous enough to push past greedy individualists who disagree for their own selfish reasons..

    2. OR?.

      If you support Trump you may be among the many who realize that Trump is:


      It’s either Trump in 2016 or Hillary or some other left-wing socialist. The next president will select as many as four supreme court justices and then we are pretty much a socialists country for at least the next 75 years.

      Wake-up you dumb-shits. Fuck your ideology. We NEED to save the country. NOW!

  2. Because they’re doing so out of a sense of social or economic fairness doesn’t make it less “authoritarian.”

    Yes it does! They have good intentions! They don’t intend to be authoritarian! Questioning their good intentions means you have bad intentions! You’re the authoritarian!

  3. “Both candidates are proposing significant amounts of new laws and regulations to control citizen behavior. Because they’re doing so out of a sense of social or economic fairness doesn’t make it less “authoritarian.””

    Those are freedom laws, clearly. Freeing you from… uh, oppression, or something.

    1. Clearly it is the business community, corporations especially, that oppress the people. By offering jobs, goods, and services to voluntary takers, they are oppressing society. Only the government stands between the people and predatory businesses (they’re all predatory because they’re all after immoral profits at the expense of their workers and customers). So by controlling these businesses and the economy, the government makes us free.

      1. That’s right! And once they crush the insurance industry and implement universal health care we’ll be free from worry… and bills!

  4. “whether it is more important for the voter to have a child who is respectful or independent”

    Dependent people are always so respectful.

    “obedient or self-reliant”

    How about obedient to their parents *until* they become self-reliant?

    “well-behaved or considerate”

    WTF, that makes no sense – I would think a well-behaved person *would* be considerate.

    “and well-mannered or curious.”

    Incurious people always express their incuriousity in such well-mannered ways!

    How about this list:

    Would you like to use deodorant, or be a socialist?

    Would you like to vote for Hillary, or not enable a sociopath?

    1. Exactly.
      As usual, the line of questioning from a dipshit college professor is not indicative of real world scenarios. When a child is young, the parent needs the former in order for the kid to ever be able to experience the latter.

      To a bureaucrat, I guess learning from parents is anathema. They must learn from the teacher that was brainwashed by leftists and dependent on leftists for bloated salaries.

      By that line of reasoning, how can a teacher ever be wrong?

  5. “freedom and equality”

    They don’t really go together. Where’s John Randolph when you need him?

    1. They certainly don’t when they are not defined.

      Freedom and equal rights, certainly go together. Freedom and equal outcomes, certainly don’t.

      1. You are mistaking freedom and liberty. Most on the left consider freedom to mean being free from being responsible for their own lives. Government exists to provide a basic standard of living for people, making them free to live their lives as they see fit. Liberty means no such freedom, making the average person a slave to the corporations. That’s why the left is openly hostile to liberty. It is the opposite of what they consider freedom to be.

        1. No, I am not.

          Freedom and liberty are synonymous and I refuse to let them redefine it.


          the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.
          “we do have some freedom of choice”
          absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government.
          “he was a champion of Irish freedom”
          synonyms: independence, self-government, self-determination, self-rule, home rule, sovereignty, nonalignment, autonomy; democracy
          “revolution was the only path to freedom”

          the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.
          “the shark thrashed its way to freedom”
          synonyms: liberty, liberation, release, deliverance, delivery, discharge;

          the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.
          “compulsory retirement would interfere with individual liberty”
          synonyms: independence, freedom, autonomy, sovereignty, self-government, self-rule, self-determination;

          1. What about freedom from things? Freedom from starvation. Freedom from homelessness. Freedom from sickness. Freedom from terrorism. Freedom from offense. Freedom from envy. And so on and so forth. That’s how it is framed, like it or not. Just as the word “choice” is a synonym for abortion, so talking about “school choice” with some people can be a very odd conversation since they think you’re talking about abortion in schools.

            1. When you add shit to the end, the meaning changes.

              When I say freedom, I mean liberty. If I qualify it, it can mean something else. Just like “equal” is not the same as “equal rights” and “equality” is not the same as “equality under the law”.

              I absolutely refuse to allow them to appropriate my word and turn something beautiful into their vile muck.

              1. I absolutely refuse to allow them to appropriate my word and turn something beautiful into their vile muck.

                When did the subject change to marriage?

                1. I guess it depends on whether you value libertarian principle (or the Constitution) more or less than that of mysticism (or whatever).

                  1. You can believe a word to mean whatever you want it to mean, but like I said with regards to the word “choice,” you may have trouble communicating with people who accept the meaning to be something different.

                    It’s not like this idea of freedom is new.


                2. Nicely played, sarc.

                  Francisco, I applaud your opposition to the sub rosa redefinition of words to advance particular political causes.

                  Sadly, though, you are not the boss of how others use and define words.

                  1. Sadly, RC, you might want to reread the entire thread, as I wasn’t the one being the word police.

                    You are mistaking freedom and liberty.

            2. Liberated from shame and self-consciousness?

              I think liberty can be framed negatively too.

      2. Of course, Randolph rejected the abstract notion of equality that is pretty much the norm today.

        However, just by my namesake, if I had more rights than you, I’d obviously be much freer. I’m thinking of the Ottoman Empire where men of higher standing could quite literally murder lower men and suffer little if any consequences – now that’s freedom!

  6. Study Shows Poll-Based Studies Mostly Bullshit
    – Tend to Reveal More About Pollsters Than Subject-Matter, Say Casual Observers


  7. I am probably preaching to the choir now.

    But these 4 questions are complete nonsense in regards to how a person sees their fellow adults. And if you ask me those questions on different days, I may be more inclined to answer them differently.
    Of course I want my children to be obedient. To me and my wife! It is our house and we pay the fucking bills. AND self-reliant: clean up your own messes, do your chores and we will pay you, etc.
    Of course I want my children to be respectful. AND independent. The two aren’t mutually exclusive at all.
    Of course I want my children to be well-mannered. AND curious. In school, my kids can ask questions and still not bother their classmates.
    Of course I want my children to be well-behaved. AND considerate. Of course, how one defines these words is everything. To me, well behaved means don’t go out of your way to be an asshole. Considerate means hold the door open for the person behind you.

    This just goes to show why those of us who work in technical fields (engineering and hard sciences) think these soft sciences are complete rubbish.

    1. Of course I want my children to be obedient. To me and my wife! It is our house and we pay the fucking bills.

      And your kids totally agreed to live there on those terms!

      1. There’s no authoritarianism like familial authoritarianism, Nicole.

        1. And there no bigger “Fuck off and mind your own business” than when somebody gets preachy about how I raise my kids.

          1. Thanks for utterly and completely proving both my and Nicole’s points. You sure are a sharp one, aren’t you.

      2. So what?

      3. And your kids totally agreed to live there on those terms!

        As children, their parents are their legal guardians, with the sole authority to make agreements on their behalf.

        So, actually, yes they did agree to live there on those terms.

    2. I hate those “OR” questions.

    3. That’s because it is not a science. I’m sure political science, sociology, psychology, etc.. were invented majors to get people out of college and to get tuition $$.

      A college professor cannot predict thought patterns or behaviors of people they do not know well over time.

      A cooter preference test does not an asshole predict.

    4. Actually, the concerns you have about the questions are complete nonsense.

      Of course you may answer the questions differently from day to day. That is expected, as you may be more or less of an authoritarian from day to day. In particular, the higher level of fear you feel on certain days may manifest as support for a higher level of authoritarianism.

      Also, this is a statistical sample, so you’re answering the test slightly different one day is probably offset by someone like you answering the other way.

      And the choices are not meant to be exclusive. That is the point. Of course most parents want their children to have all of the traits listed, but you are forced to choose only one trait from each choice, so your choice indicates your preference. That’s what makes the short quiz so clever and useful.

      This just goes to show why some people who think they’re really smart aren’t really so sharp as they think.

  8. These questions pertain 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.

    Let’s structure our bullshit study around 4 false choices, that’s sure to throw them for a loop.

  9. I just heard this morning that Trump is dominating in the Live Free or Die state.

    1. Pretty sure you are supposed to be the “Live free or die” in quotes. They really, really don’t mean it.

      1. In NH you don’t have to wear a seat belt and car insurance is not mandatory, but don’t you dare put a cell phone to your ear while driving.

        1. Car insurance is mandatory in certain circumstances in NH:

          New Hampshire has no mandatory insurance law. The Division of Motor Vehicles strongly recommends and urges all owners of motor vehicles to carry standard liability and property damage insurance.

          The Division of Motor Vehicles may require that persons have insurance (SR-22). If you fall under an insurance filing requirement, the Division of Motor Vehicles will notify you of this in writing.

          A Driver Record Report will reflect whether or not an individual is required to file proof of insurance. This information is displayed either as:

          “No proof of financial responsibility is required.”


          “Proof of financial responsibility is required.”

          1. When Proof of Insurance (SR-22) is Required

            Below is a list of some examples of why an SR-22 may be required. Please be advised that this list does not contain all the reasons an SR-22 may be required:

            Individuals convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI) are mandated to file proof of insurance for a minimum of three (3) years from date of conviction for a first offense and longer for subsequent offenses.
            If someone is being decertified as an habitual offender, before license/operating privileges can be restored, that person must file proof of insurance for a minimum of three (3) years from the date of his/her habitual offender decertification hearing.
            Individuals who appear at administrative hearings for certain offenses, such as Demerit Points, may be mandated to file insurance as a condition of retaining a license, or if the license is suspended, as a condition of restoration.
            Individuals found at fault for an uninsured accident are mandated to file proof of insurance for a minimum of three (3) years from the date of the accident. Please note the filing period will be extended following defaulting a payment agreement or if a judgment is obtained.

            Certain Convictions that require filing proof of insurance (SR-22):

            DWI – (1st, 2nd, Subsequent, and Aggravated).
            Underage DWI – (1st, 2nd, Subsequent, Aggravated).
            Leaving Scene of Accident.
            Conduct After Accident.
            Subsequent (2nd) offense Reckless Operation.

      2. Yeah. “Live Free or Die” is a joke.

  10. Garbage in, garbage out.

    There’s I just boiled down the study into its essentials.

  11. To me, being authoritarian isn’t about right or left, it’s about whether or not you believe in TOP MEN and in Principals over Principles.

    It doesn’t much matter if that “great leader” is a pastor, businessman, SJW-type pseudo-intellectual, or whatever. The point is whether or not you are willing and able to place your trust in someone else and believe that they will make the right decisions for your life and the lives of those around you. I have zero faith in such people. Even if I were to encounter a so-called leader who happened to think nearly 100% as I do and who I openly acknowledged as being much smarter than I am, I would still not trust that person with any degree of unchecked power.

  12. Your result for The Altemeyer Authoritarian Test …
    5% Authoritarian!
    You scored 5% Authoritarian.

    A Low Score

    You are skeptial [sic] of or don’t trust the authorities.

    On a jury you would take mitigating circumstances into account when determining a sentance [sic].

    You are less aggressive.

    You are less likley [sic] to join a military service.

    You are less likley [sic] to care about “fitting in” with others.

    You are less likley [sic] to belong to a fundamentalist religion.

    A High Score

    You tend to trust the authorities.

    On a jury you would be concerned that someone who had committed a henious [sic] crime received punishment.

    You are more aggressive when the circumstances require it.

    You are more likley [sic] to join a military service.

    You want to “fit in” with others.

    You probably don’t attend church services.

  13. f You Support Trump, You May Be an Authoritarian (Also: If You Support Clinton, Rubio, Sanders, Cruz ?)

    Or if you support “solutions” to stem the effects of “climate change”.

    1. We must act now! We must do something!

  14. What is the government? Control. The government is a population-driven dream world built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this.”

    *holds up sheep*

  15. [being] a separate matter [..] whether these laws are good or bad, depending on one’s values[,] [it] is nevertheless an expression of an authoritarian attitude.

    Well, it is clear that when it comes to learning which person has authoritarian tendencies, the investigator tends to apply his own biases when defining the good authoritarianism which is the kind espoused by Democratic politics; and which one is the bad kind espoused by the GOP. in other words, authoritarianism is in the eye of the Democratic (or Marxian) beholder.

    To me that sounds like a Texas Sharpshooter fallacy but maybe for the Marxians it looks like sound science.

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  17. One reason why people might be attracted to some soft-authoritarian Trump “I’ll make things work” is not because they love Hitler, but there is a perception that government is unaccountable, irresponsible, and ineffective.

    VA scandal. No one fired. No real changes made.
    IRSA Scandal. No one fired.
    Fast & furious. EPA, whatever.

    Obviously, its the system, rather than the leader, but its hard to change the system, and maybe you need a real shaker-upper guy to do that.

    Another aspect of a vague angst against accountability. People know the press has been very, very soft on Obama, so you get a feeling that not only is government running off the rails, no one even cares to notice in the elite.

    1. IRS scandal – no one executed for treason.

      Vote Woodchipper 2016!

  18. Here’s my social science red flag alert.
    Your first red flag should be that this line of research is Frankfurt School bullshit.

  19. Actually I don’t think the left is authoritarian.

    There is no authority that they respect. Not parents. Not churches. Not even governments.

    They are totalitarian ideologues. They are for progressivism by any means necessary. They are for any power that promotes progressivism and against any power that thwarts it.

  20. How is this topic anything new? Both parties and every agency in the US government is completely reliant on the use of authority to further their agendas. The same is true throughout the world. It is simply a matter of means and degree. It is the source of most human conflict.

  21. ‘well-behaved or considerate’
    Meaningless. How can you be considerate and not be well-behaved, how can you be well-behaved and not be considerate.

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  23. If you support trump, you’re not really trying to make sense of our failed system. He is the same as the existing establishment. He will just bring in new corrupt cronies.

    he might get whacked by the neo-cons but Reid is going to love him.

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  25. Mr. Trump, it seems, is an expert and all the rest are merely mediocre professionals, at best.
    Trump is as smart as he is intelligent. Not a pretender ala Hillary (psychopathology 101, with a dash of dementia) Clinton. A truly dangerous individual.
    Trump is certainly intimidating to phonies throughout the carny-sphere (aka) government and M$M.
    He’s already shown that he’s more than a match for many deluded poser “journalists.”

    Brass tacks, baby! Let’s get down to Bidness! The politico bureaucrats and their pandering presstitute 5th column M$M just love to brag how great America is and “the business of America is business!!” Hoo-rah! Hoo-rah! We’re #1, we’re #1, we’re #1 … ad infinitum………..
    Well .. just who is the Alpha businessman up there on the stage? Bernie?!! Hahahahaha!
    Psycho-Hillary!? Have any of these fakers ever even had a real job?! Apart from trickle down nepotism and shaking down people, places and things, that is.. Uber-bureaucrats. Impressive!

    We need real Business, not War Business, which is about the only thin USA exports now.
    We need to do business with 11 Russian time zones, not invade them.

  26. Your entire argument against the study is based on attacking a separate hypothesis (“He hypothesizes that the trend began decades ago…”) that the study itself is not based on in any way. So right or wrong (and I think it is wrong), your argument has absolutely no merit with regard to the study itself.

  27. If you support trump, you’re not really trying to make sense of our failed system. He is the same as the existing establishment. He will just bring in new corrupt cronies.

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