February 25, 2016

Oh frabjous joy:  A psychological attack on Trump supporters!

Some PR guy has claimed that the big thing characterizing Trump supporters is authoritarianism.  Since I have had more papers on authoritarianism published in the academic journals than anyone else, I am in a good position to comment on this scurrilous attack on Trump supporters.

The article is: "The best predictor of Trump support isn't income, education, or age. It's authoritarianism" -- by Matthew MacWilliams.

Calling conservatives "authoritarian" is of course a very old Leftist slur -- tracing back to the writings of Marxist theoretician Theodor Adorno and his friends in 1950.  The Adorno work has been pretty thoroughtly demolished but the accusation still pops up occasionally.

It's a tremendous example of projection that Leftists see conservatives as being authoritarian.  What could be more authoritarian than Communism or trying to "thoroughly transform" America?

Psychologists customarily measure authoritarianism in people by asking them a set of questions that allegedly indicate it. Exactly what questions MacWilliams asked he does not give but he does say that they were based on a set that have been going around for some time.

That set asks respondents to choose between paired items indicating preferences for child-rearing values. Respondents were asked to indicate which characteristic is more desirable: (1)  respect for elders or independence; (2) obedience or self-reliance; (3) good manners or curiosity.

So the questions are in fact about child-rearing.  They are not about attitude to authority or authoritarian behaviour.  It's possible that such attitudes about child rearing generalize to various authorities or types of authority but that is not shown.  It is an assertion, not a fact.

So what Mac found was simple:  Trump supporters tend to have old-fashioned views about child-rearing.  Who is to say that that is bad?  Are the permissively treated and drug-addled snowflakes of today better off than the children of yesteryear?  It would take a bold person to assert it, I think.

Even that finding does however have doubts hanging over it.  The set of questions is ipsatively scored:  They don't allow people to choose BOTH alternatives.  That can lead to very distorted findings.  I have written in the journals about such problems on several occasions -- e.g. here.  From a psychometric viewpoint, I would recommend that Mac's work be disregarded.

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