I didn’t expect much from this article, but it turned out to really nail our subject matter.
The big quote:
This is more than a rejection of the current Democrat-Republican gridlock. This is a contempt for the very notion of constitutional democracy. And if Trump is pushing it, it may be because he knows there is a ready audience for just such a message.
The World Values Survey of 2011 included a stunning figure. It found that 34% of Americans approved of “having a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with Congress or elections”, the figure rising to 42% among those with no education beyond high school. It’s worth reading that again, to let it sink in. It means that one in three US voters would prefer a dictator to democracy. Those Americans are not repudiating this or that government, but abandoning the very idea of democracy itself.
These figures reinforce a pattern revealed by recent academic research that shows a body of US opinionpredisposed toward liberal democracy’s polar opposite: authoritarianism.
Usually that sentiment lies dormant. Understandably, voters are reluctant to admit to such feelings openly. When asked, they intuitively know that to admit to authoritarian leanings is to give the wrong answer. Political scientist Stanley Feldman found that the easiest way to break through that barrier was to ask four questions apparently not about politics but about raising children. Which is more important for a child to have: independence or respect for elders? Obedience or self-reliance? A tendency to be considerate or well-behaved? Curiosity or good manners? How you answer those four questions reveals all researchers need to know about how highly you prize conformity and order over other values.
Strikingly, the research revealed some 44% of white Americans presenting as authoritarian, with 19% registering “very high” on the authoritarian scale. And those feelings are not new: they have been picked up by surveys since Feldman first started asking those questions in the 1990s. Mostly, these “authoritarian” sentiments remain snoozing below the surface. But scholars find they become “activated” when authoritarian-leaning voters are under stress, especially when the social order or hierarchy that they value is threatened by change. That change could be a shift to greater ethnic diversity, it could be same-sex marriage, it could be stagnant wages – anything that seems to endanger the status quo that once offered those voters a secure place in society.
Besides, researchers found, when that threat is combined with a perceived external or physical menace – such as Isis – not only do the feelings of authoritarians become even more activated, those who ordinarily would give non-authoritarian answers to the four child-raising questions can shift, out of fear, towards the authoritarian camp. In the words of Vox’s Amanda Taub, these insights combine to suggest “one terrifying theory: if social change and physical threats coincided at the same time, it could awaken a potentially enormous population of American authoritarians, who would demand a strongman leader and the extreme policies necessary, in their view, to meet the rising threats.”