I posted on Facebook a link to an article that challenged my own “liberal” spirit of wanting to believe that racists and other bigots were fundamentally fearful and that a sure cure was to be found in strategically administered education and information. I had long believed that one reason people were sometimes fearful was that they believed certain their economic future was being threatened by immigrants, or people on welfare, etc. The article that challenged these hopeful views I have long held was based on an interview with a co-author of a scholarly publication that remains hidden behind a paywall but now someone has forwarded me a copy of that work and I can set out some of its details here. It is
The hypothesis that the authors set to test was
that prejudice is fueled more by aggressiveness than by submissiveness, and that it is accompanied by the wish for a domineering leader who will punish the “undeserving.”
Previous studies as a rule had interpreted a desire for authoritarian leaders as an indicator that people loved the idea of submitting and following a domineering figure. Smith and Hanley tested for a new view of authoritarianism — one that derived satisfaction from
forcing moral outsiders to submit. . . Authoritarianism is not the wish to follow any and every authority but, rather, the wish to support a strong and determined authority who will “crush evil and take us back to our true path.” Authorities who reject intolerance are anathema, and must be punished themselves.
The desire for authoritarian leaders arises not from a submissive spirit but from a wish to see in charge someone who is “punitive and intolerant“.
Authoritarianism and prejudice, two sides of the same coin
Previous studies are cited that appear to make a convincing link between authoritarianism and prejudice. There is a strong statistical correlation between authoritarianism and many forms of bias, “from ethnocentrism to misogyny and homophobia”. It appears that people who support intolerant leaders are not somehow playing down their intolerance because they like something else about them; it looks like they support them because they are intolerant.
The researchers examined 1883 white voters in the 2016 election. Of those 1883 around 52% voted for Trump (979) and of 716 of his supporters (73%) “voted for him enthusiastically”.
The variables they measured were five demographics
- marital status
and twelve attitudes. Attitudes towards
- Child traits (i.e. desire or propensity for submission to an authoritarian leader)
- Domineering leaders
- African Americans
- Reverse discrimination
- Personal finances
- Health of the economy
- Liberalism vs conservatism
- General religiosity