Well at least they're not turning out in brown shirts, not yet at least. Still there's no denying that America's authoritarian right primary voters know their man - Donald J. Trump. Political communications consultant, Matthew MacWilliams has conducted a national survey of American voters that's pretty blunt.
Trump’s strongman siren call has electrified Americans disposed to authoritarianism, rallying them to his banner as they follow his lead. As Trump joked last weekend, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody. And I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK. It’s like incredible.”
My survey, conducted under the auspices of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, uses a simple battery of four questions to identify authoritarians. These are the same questions that leading political scientists — including Marc Hetherington, Jonathon Weiler, and Karen Stenner — have employed since 1992 to measure individual disposition to authoritarianism. The results of my poll show that authoritarianism is one of only two variables that is a statistically significant predictor of Trump support among likely Republican primary voters. The other variable is fear of terrorism. Other variables included in the model are sex, educational attainment, age, church attendance, evangelicalism, ideology, race, and income.
The authoritarian inclinations of Trump voters are abundantly clear when the predicted probability of supporting Trump is arrayed across the authoritarian scale.
Trump supporters kick the fundamental tenets of Madisonian democracy to the curb, asserting that the rights of minorities need not be protected from the power of the majority. And they are statistically more likely than Trump opponents to agree the President should curtail the voice and vote of the opposition when it is necessary to protect the country – though a plurality still opposes this exercise of presidential power.
Trump voters are also ready to suspend the constitutionally guaranteed Writ of Habeas Corpus by empowering the police and law enforcement to arrest and detain indefinitely anyone in the United States who is suspected of belonging to a terrorist organization. And, as you would suspect, Trump supporters agree that mosques across the United States should be closed down – a clear abridgement of the religious freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
After analyzing 14 years of national polling data from 1992 to 2006, Hetherington and Weiler concluded that authoritarianism was driving political polarization in America. While authoritarians can be found among self-identified Democrats and Independents, their slow but steady movement over time to the Republican Party may have created the conditions for a candidate with an authoritarian message like Trump’s to emerge.
Trump’s support is firmly rooted in an American version of authoritarianism that, once awakened and stoked, is a force to be reckoned with. And until quite recently, the institutions and leaders tasked with guarding against what Madison called “the infection of the violent passions” among the people have either been cowed by Trump’s bluster or derelict in performing their civic duty. Trump’s authoritarian support may be too solid and his momentum too strong to stop his march to the Republican nomination.