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Authoritarians to the Left and Right

The divide between people on either side of the political aisle is now larger than at any point since 1994.

The share of Democrats expressing very unfavorable attitudes toward Republicans grew from 16 percent to 44 percent over that period, according to Pew Research Center. The percentage of Republicans holding very unfavorable views of Democrats rose from 17 percent to 45 percent.

New research in Public Opinion Quarterly identifies what could be a significant factor fueling this rise: Americans' authoritarian tendencies.

Authoritarians are predisposed toward a group-centrism that is grounded in a need for order and certainty. Partisanship, like religion, is a social identity that offers the psychological benefits of tribal membership.

The Colgate University political scientist Matthew Luttig analyzed four sets of survey data that probe respondents on these qualities. His combined results cast doubt on the conventional political science wisdom that Republicans are significantly more prone to authoritarianism than Democrats. To the contrary, he finds that authoritarians "gravitate to both parties' extremes."

In the surveys, authoritarianism is measured via a series of questions about child-rearing beliefs. In essence, they ask which one of a pair of values people see as more important for children: obedience or self-reliance; independence or respect for elders; curiosity or good manners; and being considerate or being well-behaved. Setting aside the issue of whether the questions measure learned cultural dispositions or innate temperament, they do enable researchers to assess the authoritarian values held by respondents. Intensity of partisanship, meanwhile, is measured by asking respondents whether they consider themselves to be "strong" Democrats or Republicans.

Luttig reports that in the 2012 American National Election Studies survey, 13 percent of white Democrats chose the "authoritarian" response to each of the four standard questions, while 19 percent of white Republicans did the same. On both sides, the more authoritarian picks a person made, the higher the probability that he or she would also identify as strongly partisan. (Among Democrats, strong partisanship rose from 34 to 48 percent. Among Republicans, it went from 30 to 49 percent.)

Interestingly, Luttig observes that "some of the strongest members of the Democratic Party are highly authoritarian Whites, individuals typically believed to be members of the White working class." Because many of them are also socially conservative, he speculates that this group may over time decide the GOP "provides a better 'match'" for their values.

Either way, Luttig concludes, "partisan hostility in America today is not entirely rooted in different views of the world, ideological principles, or cultural disagreements." At least part of the problem is people's "powerful but substantively vacuous authoritarian needs to belong."

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  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    It goes back to that same old bogey man: government. People are not naturally eager to control their fellow man. We all tell other people what to do, but more like offering advice in an authoritative voice.

    Then along comes intrusive government. If it were limited to just adjudication and military, that would be the end of it. But no, government must collect taxes to do those minimal functions, and with that comes a bewildering array of exemptions and favors. Who would tax a church or homeless shelter dependent on donations? The favors spread, pretty soon you're knee deep in corruption, and pretty soon people have never known anything else, can't imagine even a minimal government any more (roads! who will build roads? You didn't build that).

    At that point, it's all over. People resent all that government intrusion, they see no way to roll it back for everybody, they sure aren't going to stand for even a slight chance of their little corner of corruption being rolled back while others keep theirs, and so none get rolled back; indeed, everyone thinks their own special favors are less than others' and fight for more.

    Every little difference sets off alarms and calls for increasing special treatment. That's where the authoritarianism comes in. Do unto others before they do unto you.

    I don't know what the end game is. Not revolution; society is far more intertwined now that 20 years ago. We're not a bunch of self-sufficient farmers. But something's got to give.

  • buybuydandavis||

    People are not naturally eager to control their fellow man.

    I wanna live on your planet. Where is it?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Yeah, I don't buy that. I think people have a natural inclination to attempt to control their environment, and other people are as much an example of that as anything.

  • buybuydandavis||

    Many are more concerned about controlling others than just stuff. Domination feeds their dopamine pumps.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    People like telling others what to do, of course. But there's a difference between stern suggestions and outright orders backed by the ultimate threat of death.

    Suppose, for instance, that every call to a 1-800 hotline about your neighbor's barking dog included a warning that following up on the tip could result in the death of the neighbor for interfering with the government employees who would soon show up; very few people would want things to go that far, no matter how disrespectful the neighbor were when the police showed up.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Or suppose that when you called in a complaint on someone, like unpermitted deck, car parked illegally, untagged dog, they would deputize you over the phone, and you could legally go next door and threaten your neighbor with death if he didn't comply. That's what I mean -- people aren't interested in that. They want something sanitized so they can pretend the threat of death is not involved.

    People want government to hide the ugly reality behind bullshit regulations and procedures, so they can pretend it's nothing to do with them.

    You do read about control freaks, both petty criminals and the more sophisticated government kinds. Especially police and prosecutors. But the vast majority of people wouldn't do that work even if you paid them, or deputized them over the phone. They are not that kind of authoritarian. Maybe they should be called suggestarians.

  • Jay Dubya||

    I am much less bullish on the notion that individuals are not innately totalitarian. Perhaps we can better understand this impulse as a tendency toward aggressive violence. In this understanding a man may not shoot his neighbors dog but might beat his wife; a woman might not murder a stranger over talking on a cellphone while driving but might physically terrorize her children. The question is one of opportunity. Government is particularly violent because it has no fear of retribution. Where this is the case w individuals - whether at school, work or at home - when a human being finds herself in a position of absolute advantage - I think that there are very fer human beings on this earth who would not do some kind of substantive evil, if only in a moment of 'weakness'.

  • buybuydandavis||

    I don't think it's aggressive violence as much as a lust for domination.

  • damikesc||

    You mean groups blaming all of their ills on whites might lead to whites wanting a group to belong to of their own?

  • buybuydandavis||

    It's only bad when Whitey does it.

  • SimonP||

    Maybe because it's usually bad when Whitey does do it?

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Like science, and democracy, and the rule of law, and property rights, and...

  • No Yards Penalty||

    ''You mean groups blaming all of their ills on whites might lead to whites wanting a group to belong to of their own?''

    Stop making excuses for being in the Klan, hillbilly. Or take your cracker drivel back to the Federalist and Brietbart where you were spawned.

  • Jay Dubya||

    "You mean groups blaming all of their ills on whites might lead to whites wanting a group to belong to of their own?"
    If you & your contemptible tribe of white nationalist whiners would have the backbone to act on your own drivel, pack up all of your shit, climb aboard some rickety boat & leave the USA in search of whitebread babylon (where the mayonaisse flows like water), absolutely not one libertarian would stop you.
    Seriously. Get the fuck out.

  • Eidde||

    "In the surveys, authoritarianism is measured via a series of questions about child-rearing beliefs. In essence, they ask which one of a pair of values people see as more important for children: obedience or self-reliance; independence or respect for elders; curiosity or good manners; and being considerate or being well-behaved."

    This again?

    Where's the evidence that obeying your parents when it's time to go to bed means you won't be self-reliant as an adult?

    Where's the evidence that disrespecting ol' Grandpa correlates with curiousity?

    Where's the evidence that bad behavior correlates with being considerate?

  • Eidde||

    Oh, respect for ol' grandpa is inconsistent with independence, not curiousity. It's good manners and curiousity which are in conflict.

    "I don't care if Johnny is badly behaved, so long as he's considerate!"

  • Eidde||

    INTERVIEWER: "Would you prefer that little Johnny chew with his mouth closed?"

    PARENT: "Of course!"

    INTERVIEWER: "But wouldn't you rather he invent a cure for cancer?"

    PARENT: "He can do that *and* still have proper table manners at the same time!"

    (Interviewer writes "FASCIST" in his notebook)

  • markm23||

    The important question is, how far will you go to stop little Johnny chewing with his mouth open. If you'll call the cops to shoot him, you're clearly an authoritarian. But in my opinion, if you'll call the cops to throw a somewhat older Johnny in jail because he's smoking the wrong kind of plants, you're still an authoritarian - and both party establishments still support this.

  • Robert||

    That contraposition of "well-behaved" and "considerate" is a head scratcher. What do you think it means? Seems like about the same thing to me.

  • Jay Dubya||

    Considerate emplies empathy & introspection. Well behaved implies rule following & self denial.
    Is this method of research really so hard to comprehend? By choosing one value over another a questioner is not saying that one is bad but that one is *preferred*. Preference underlies value judgement. Individual survey accuracy can be obtained to some degree by looking at the consistency of answers across large batteries of questions. A lot of science is based on these types of surveys. While individual survey validity can be questioned, & causul arguments cannot be established using these surveys, they can reveal correlations that are otherwise hidden, prompting otber types of research.
    But dont take my word for it. This is a comment on the internet. Try reading a fucking book or signing up at your local university if you want to learn more about research methodology & statistics. The results are bound to be more valuable than trying to debunk a research paper youve never seen based on snark alone.
    Plus, i thought the ever increasingly partisan crowd here would appreciate that the study found roughly equal levels of authoritarian impulses in members of both teams. It certainly sounds good to me. A pox on bofh your houses, etc.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Where's the evidence that disrespecting ol' Grandpa *is* bad behavior?

    What if ol' Grandpa is a douchebag?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    You should still be polite. Just need to learn to ignore them. I love and respect my Uncle. But he's fucking crazy racist and I know to politely disagree with him on that.

    Civility is important, it really is.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Wasn't saying you *shouldn't* be civil. Just that you oughtn't to *have* to be. If I have a kid, and that kid sees one of my older relatives being a dick and refuses to be civil about it, I'm not gonna scold him, I'm gonna back him up at the time and then give him an "attaboy", with a warning not to push it, later.

  • SimonP||

    You might ask Jonathan Haidt, a few posts over, given the very high-temperature bit about how unprepared for success today's over-protected youth are.

  • STSA||

    "Interestingly, Luttig observes that "some of the strongest members of the Democratic Party are highly authoritarian Whites, individuals typically believed to be members of the White working class." Because many of them are also socially conservative, he speculates that this group may over time decide the GOP "provides a better 'match'" for their values."

    They always find a way to blame the white man. So if Joe White turns to Trump because the Democratic Party has become the party of illegal aliens and diversity, he's a racist and authoritarian. Yet when Obama said "if they bring a knife, we bring a gun," he wasn't authoritarian. Excuse me? Was Obama not authoritarian when he forced us to buy health insurance or pay a fine? That sounds authoritarian to me.

    Trump has been the opposite, he's been deregulating like crazy. He even liberated the lands Obama stole from us through the Antiquities Act. Move over, Lincoln, Trump is the next great emancipator.

  • SimonP||

    "Deregulating like crazy." I mean, sure. By fiat, often in violation of the law. The FCC ruling on net neutrality trampled over states' rights. And, uh, let's not think too hard about the DOJ, its re-endorsement of asset forfeiture, its sending more military gear to local police forces, its rollback on settlements limiting the abuse of force by local police departments, its scaling up of enforcement of federal anti-marijuana laws in states that have legalized it, etc.

    But, yeah, sure, as long as you're not paying very close attention to the details and relying on just the tweets, I suppose it could look that way, as not "authoritarian." It's too bad you don't care about actual "liberty."

  • Rat on a train||

    How is returning internet regulation to Title I from Title II a violation of states' rights?

  • fafalone||

    Yup, if you're a megacorp looking to abuse people and the environment, Trump is deregulating like crazy in order to restore your freedom to do so.
    Meanwhile if you're a mere individual, you can feel the crushing authoritarianism getting worse, for the reasons SimonP mentioned above, and if you're gay or trans you're losing freedom... ugh, I'd continue, but what you posted almost certainly indicates you're deluded and won't see Trump for what he is no matter how hard he hits you over the head with it.

  • No Yards Penalty||

    STSA, I realize you're one of the new hillbillies around here, but most of the Trumpanzee Contards formed their own little whiny-assed group and called it glib something....

  • Cunty Over Party||

    No link to the study so as to examine the methodology? That's where the bodies are usually buried. In particular, this strange addition to the original criteria is suspicious:

    Luttig reports that in the 2012 American National Election Studies survey, 13 percent of white Democrats chose the "authoritarian" response to each of the four standard questions, while 19 percent of white Republicans did the same.

    All of the sudden race gets entered into the considerations?

    I would suspect that nonwhites are more likely to be "authoritarian" by this metric (child-rearing attitudes), and they are also far more likely to be Democrats. (Of course I'm willing to be proven wrong by the data if it contradicts this) So this seems like it might be an artificial way of making Democrats look "less authoritarian" and lay the blame on working-class white people as usual.

  • jcalton||

    Am I missing something or did the majority of both parties not identify as authoritarian in the study?

    Not saying I like the ones who did, just trying to figure out what this really means.

  • JuanQPublic||

    It appears to mean a strong correlation between partisanship and authoritarian tendencies. The more others want to dictate how you live your life, the more likely they are to be partisan.

  • JuanQPublic||

    Yes, the never ending quest for certainty in an uncertain world. The delusion of the authoritarian.

    American authoritarians also seem less sincere about it than their overseas counterparts, because they like to think of themselves as "Pro-Democracy", while being absolutely obsessed about what other adults do, especially if it doesn't reflect their own supposed standards.

  • buybuydandavis||

    In the surveys, authoritarianism is measured via a series of questions about child-rearing beliefs. In essence, they ask which one of a pair of values people see as more important for children:

    That natural conclusion is that this measure of "authoritarianism" is a great yardstick of attitudes toward raising children, and of no established significance in measuring attitudes toward the proper governance of adults.

  • CLM1227||

    Ding ding ding.

    Wanting MY kids to be obedient where I haven't taught them and independent where I have bears no reflection on what I think of others.

    And even if I want my kids to chew with their mouth closed, I'm not calling the police to enforce it. What kind of parent am I if I need the government to enforce order in my own home?

  • AJ_Liberty||

    The questionnaire should have elicited opinions on the role of government in controlling others.

    Republicans would score badly on abortion, drug legalization, gay marriage, immigration jingoism, police militarization and searches, a bigger and more aggressive military, banning art, pushing religiosity, NSA surveillance, against pornography, and enhanced national security measures relative to terrorism and Muslims.

    Democrats score badly on economic regulation, EPA natural resource regulation, gun control, welfare entitlements, government programs for everything, taxation for social justice, wealth redistribution to address income inequality, pushing for government sponsored art, government-sponsored energy solutions, Title IX, college speech codes, opposition to school choice, allegiance to unions, State autonomy, safety zones, affirmative action, and identity politics.

    Of course, the final score depends on whose ox is being gored....and whose ends you are most sympathetic with. I favor the group that pushes government decisions down to the lowest level practical....and is modest about what government is good at.....both need help

  • JuanQPublic||

    Banning art, "harmful" substances, etc doesn't follow party or ideological lines. Alcohol prohibition was spearheaded by women's movements (which actually made female social drinking acceptable during that time). Banning or censoring art is also shared by all sorts of people, actually very recently.

  • BigChiefWahoo||

    Alcohol Prohibition was also a big Progressive project, something which tends to be downplayed, currently.

  • AngelaM||

    Does it really matter whether or not one side has more authoritarian tendencies than the other. These beliefs are dangerous and anti-democratic. They make one more disposed to follow the leader whomever he or she might be. Thinking with one's gut is highly dangerous and leads to one suspending his/her personal judgment for that of the "mob." It may forster a sense of belonging but it also establishes the them vs. us mentality wherein all good resides with us and all evil with them. The real questions are which party encourages such views and how to combat them.

  • khairyayman||

  • Ned Netterville||

    If as a result of the special prosecutor finding evidence of high crimes or misdemeanors committed by Trump, and a coalition of Democrats and establishment Republicans in Congress should proceed to impeach and convict him, does anyone think he would go quietly? Would his core supporters allow impeachment to remove him? Could the divide lead to the end to constitutional government? And, would that be good or bad?

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