Monday, March 21, 2016

How Authoritarianism, Elitism, Nationalism And Populism Are Playing Out In The Campaigns This Cycle


I snagged the above chart from a Washington Post analysis of authoritarianism in the 2016 presidential race by political science professors Wendy Rahn (University of Minnesota) and Eric Oliver (University of Chicago) earlier this month. Their point is that Cruz's supporters are even more enamored of authoritarianism (of a fascist nature) than Trump's fan boys are. Something outside of what the two professors are going on about, however, is what jumped out at me, namely that the only candidate running for president attracting supporters intellectually equipped and emotionally mature enough to make decisions about the race are-- you guessed it-- Bernie's.

Their definition of authoritarianism is standard-- a set of personality traits, as understood by political psychologists, that refers to a desire for order, clarity and stability. Authoritarians have little tolerance for deviance. They’re highly obedient to strong leaders. They scapegoat outsiders and demand conformity to traditional norms." Their childish definition of populism, on the other hand, is problematic and very much influenced by and rooted in a calcified establishment mindset. "Populism," they assert, "is a type of political rhetoric that casts a virtuous 'people' against nefarious elites and strident outsiders. Scholars measure populism in a variety of ways, but we focus on three central elements:
Belief that a few elites have absconded with the rightful sovereignty of the people;
Deep mistrust of any group that claims expertise;
Strong nationalist identity
I pity their students if this kind of intellectual dishonesty is how they push their ideas in their classrooms. Their narrow, cherry-picked and high focussed definition of populism was invented solely to bolster their irrelevant and self-consciously contrarian theory about the origins of Trumpism. "Of course," they half apologize in case anyone with a three-digit IQ reads the Post these days, "authoritarians and populists can overlap and share dark tendencies toward nativism, racism and conspiracism. But they do have profoundly different perceptions of authority. Populists see themselves in opposition to elites of all kinds. Authoritarians see themselves as aligned with those in charge. This difference sets the candidates’ supporters apart."

Bonus chart

Their practically pre-determined conclusions are that "Trump voters are no more authoritarian than supporters of Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio," even less so than Cruz supporters and that "what really differentiates Trump’s voters from the other Republicans is the populism" (or at least their hostile and establishment-shaded definition of it). "Trump voters are the only ones to score consistently high on all three [of the professors'] populist dimensions. Cruz and Rubio’s supporters, for example, don’t express high feelings of anti-elitism. In fact, on this scale, they are strongly anti-populist, identifying with authority rather than rejecting it.
Trump supporters share anti-elitism with only one other group: Sanders’s voters.

But where Trump is a populist, we would argue that Sanders is not. Despite the fact that Sanders often gets called a populist, his voters do not conform to the populist stereotype. They generally trust experts and do not identify strongly as Americans. A better way to describe them would be cosmopolitan socialists. They see the system as corrupted by economic elites. But they don’t trust ordinary Americans and show only light attachment to Americanism as an identity.
Now, back to their chart and a look at how their data defines Bernie supporters in comparison with the 5 conservative candidates. Mindless nationalists will be most attracted to Trump and Rubio but wouldn't feel out of place backing Kasich, Hillary or Cruz. Only Bernie supporters reject the whole idea of mindless nationalism. Followers of Trump, Cruz and Rubio are anti-science freaks and mistrust experts (and education). Kasich supporters and Hillary supports aren't anti-expert but it is only Bernie supporters who strongly value expertise.

As for elitism, supporters of Rubio, Cruz, Kasich and Hillary are enthralled with elites. Bernie followers and, to a lesser extent, Trump followers reject elitism. That is the foundation of Bernie's political revolution as well as an underlying cause of the constant comparison between Bernie supporters and Trump fans. It also helps explain Hillary's hysterical reaction against Bernie's platform-- which combines outright rhetorical theft to twisted assertions of illegitimacy.

The voters who admire the authoritarian approach leaders flock to Cruz first and foremost, then it Trump and Rubio, less so to Hillary, still less than that to Kasich and the, of course, are on a different planet altogether from Bernie supporters.

One of the problems with electoral analysis this cycle is that the top candidates seem to be competing with each other from who can get away with the most lies and only two-- Bernie and Kasich-- seem old-fashioned enough to consider objective truth before speaking. Trump's rhetorical is unmoored from any sense of reality whatsoever and there is nothing he says than can be taken at face value. Cruz, Rubio and Clinton are professional political deceivers who actively work to mislead the people who listen to their speeches and answers to questions and who are wisely widely distrusted by voters who rate the 3 of them (+ the sociopathic Trump) as overwhelmingly dishonest and untrustworthy. Again, only Bernie and, to a lesser extent, Kasich are seen as honest and truthful. Historically, voters haven't selected presidents based on how they are perceived on a trust scale. I suspect that this year, though, if Hillary and Trump, two bold-faced liars who are believed by no one except their locked-in zombie followers, are the nominees, the final decisions of many voters will be based on which is the less egregious liar. I suspect the Clinton campaign is counting on that.

 Goal Thermometer

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