Since emerging as a dominant force in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump has mystified conventional political thinkers. Here’s a guy who breaks every rule in the book, says things that would surely sink any other candidate, and seems to flout many of the ideological principles that Republicans claim to support. So what explains his continued success? Why are so many drawn to him?
Pollster Matthew MacWilliams claims to have identified the one trait that binds Trump supporters together. He writes for Politico:
… I’ve found a single statistically significant variable [that] predicts whether a voter supports Trump—and it’s not race, income or education levels: It’s authoritarianism.
That’s right, Trump’s electoral strength—and his staying power—have been buoyed, above all, by Americans with authoritarian inclinations. And because of the prevalence of authoritarians in the American electorate, among Democrats as well as Republicans, it’s very possible that Trump’s fan base will continue to grow.
How does MacWilliams discern whether a voter is authoritarian?
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.
One might question that methodology. It’s a bit of a stretch to argue that a parent’s desire for a respectful, obedient, well-behaved child makes them authoritarian toward fellow adults.
Nevertheless, the fact that MacWilliams found a correlation between his measure of authoritarianism and support for Trump offers an intriguing bit of fodder for continued speculation regarding the candidate’s unconventional rise and uncommon staying power.