A Disturbing Number of Americans Have Right-Wing Authoritarian Views

A new poll shows a higher percentage of people in the U.S. qualify as "highly right-wing authoritarian" compared to other Western countries.
June 29, 2021, 5:44pm
Donald Trump supporters gathered to protest against the certification of Joe Biden as the winner of the presidential election, State capitol, St. Paul, Minnesota.

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If it perhaps wasn’t obvious from the past five years, now we have some hard data to back it up: A disturbing number of Americans are politically inclined toward authoritarianism, according to new research released by Morning Consult

The survey used the right-wing authoritarianism scale developed by psychologist Bob Altemeyer to compare the authoritarian tendencies among people in the U.S. and seven other countries, including Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The scale ranges from least authoritarian to most authoritarian. Researchers found that 26 percent of respondents in the U.S. were “highly right-wing authoritarian.” That’s double the numbers in Canada and Australia. 

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More than three-quarters of those who qualified as right-wing authoritarian were over the age of 45. The largest age group representing those who qualified as least authoritarian were people under the age of 35 (40 percent). 

In his book “The Authoritarians,” Altemeyer defined an authoritarian personality as being inclined toward submission to authority, aggression on behalf of that authority, and conventionalism. Altemeyer has long thought a significant minority of Americans were right-wing authoritarians. 

"Probably about 20 to 25 percent of the adult American population is so right-wing authoritarian, so scared, so self-righteous, so ill-informed, and so dogmatic that nothing you can say or do will change their minds,” he told former Nixon White House counsel John Dean in 2006. “They would march America into a dictatorship and probably feel that things had improved as a result.”

But the rise of former President Donald Trump and the increasingly open far-right within the Republican ranks has brought the right-wing authoritarian threat home in a very real way. Trump spent much of his time in office attacking the press and political opponents, and publicly supported and encouraged efforts to overturn the legal results of the 2020 presidential election

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There were early signs that right-wing authoritarians in the U.S. were disproportionately inclined towards Trump. 

In December 2015, before even a single primary with Trump’s name on the ballot was held, political scientists at UMass Amherst found that Trump had already won over 43 percent of Republican primary voters who were “strong authoritarians.” After Trump’s election in 2016, his popularity with the Republican base only grew, even as he never won the approval of a majority of Americans.

Devotion to Trump and the desire to keep him in office has remained high since he left the White House. A poll from Morning Consult and Politico released earlier this month found that more than half of Trump’s voters believe that audits of the 2020 election, such as the deeply flawed and widely discredited audit ongoing in Maricopa County, Arizona, will uncover fraud that changes the results of the 2020 election—even though Trump has now been out of office for more than five months and has no possible way to become president without running again in 2024.

And Trump himself has continued to fuel that theory, including in a recent statement denouncing Saturday Night Live. 

“I do believe that the 100% one-sided shows should be considered an illegal campaign contribution from the Democrat Party, hard to believe I got 75 million votes (the most of any sitting President) despite all of that, together with a very Fraudulent Election,” Trump said last week. “2024 or before!”