It’s such a disparate group — all over the place in terms of age, income, education, religion and other common political markers.
But Matthew MacWilliams, a doctoral candidate out of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, thinks he has found the commonality: The best indicator of a voter’s level of Trump bias, MacWilliams found, is the voter’s preferred style of parenting. Trumpers tend to be authoritarians.
What’s bringing all these different people together, new research shows, is a shared type of personality — a personality that in many ways has nothing to do with politics. Indeed, it turns out that your views on raising children better predict whether you support Trump than just about anything else about you.
It’s both a fascinating sidebar to the fiasco of Trump’s crazy candidacy, and yet entirely unsurprising when you really think about it.
Here’s how the study was conducted:
Republicans were asked four questions about child-rearing. With each question, respondents were asked which of two traits were more important in children:
- independence or respect for their elders;
- curiosity or good manners;
- self-reliance or obedience;
- being considerate or being well-behaved.
Psychologists use these questions to identify people who are disposed to favor hierarchy, loyalty and strong leadership — those who picked the second trait in each set — what experts call “authoritarianism.” That many of Trump’s supporters share this trait helps explain the success of his unconventional candidacy and suggests that his rivals will have a hard time winning over his adherents.
So what does “authoritarian” mean in this context?
Authoritarian parents are strict and demanding. They set rules and insist their kids follow those rules, no questions asked. It’s the old “my-way-or-the-highway,” “because-I-said-so” and “no-backtalk” routine.
Authoritarians don’t often encourage kids to think critically about what other people say (least of all political candidates) because they don’t want their kids thinking critically about what they say. The boss is always in control, and the parent is always boss. Lots of punishments — yelling, spanking, time-outs, groundings, lost privileges, you name it.
Likewise, the Post said, Trumpers, prefer “clarity and unity to ambiguity and difference… They’re amenable to restricting the rights of foreigners, members of a political party in the minority and anyone whose culture or lifestyle deviates from their own community’s.”
“For authoritarians, things are black and white,” MacWilliams said. “Authoritarians obey.”
The link makes sense when you think about it: Authoritarian parents feel the need to put kids in their place and punish those who disobey; Trump feels the need to put immigrants in their place and punish women who disobey.
MacWilliams is quick to point out that not all authoritarian parents are Republicans and that not all authoritarian parenting is bad.
Nonetheless, research on authoritarianism is extremely sensitive, since it began after World War II, when psychologists and social scientists wanted to understand how so many people could support repressive, homicidal dictatorships in Europe and elsewhere.
“I’m not saying they’re fascists,” MacWilliams said.
That doesn’t mean we aren’t.