Analysis of Right-Wing Authoritarian (RWA) Followers: An Insight Into Why Donald J. Trump Won
The Milgram Authoritarian Obidience Experiment
Who is a RWA?
I have brought up the idea of Right-wing Authoritarian (RWA) followers in many of my political hubs because of their importance to the Conservative movement. This personality characteristic provides the army used by the Social Dominator (SD) leaders. Now I am not making these names up out of thin air. They actually are labels developed from research that began when scientists started studying why otherwise intelligent people blindly followed such obviously, in hindsight, terrible leaders. The prototypical example that got the ball rolling in this research was the German people's fascination with Hitler. Hitler is the poster child of what has become to be know as a Social Dominator (SD) (not to mention a sociopath) and the people of German, en masse, were what would become to be known as Right-wing Authoritarian followers; someone willing to follow authority figures without questioning the SDs directions even though it may not pass the common sense test. (The Right-wing part of the label actually comes from where the more conservative members of the French parliament sat.)
There was a very famous experiment carried out in 1963, by Stanley Milgram, a professor in social psychology, who showed that a majority of people are susceptible following an authority figure beyond their personal comfort lever.
The experiment went thusly: An Experimenter, the Authority figure, had a Teacher, the unsuspecting Subject, administer electric shocks of increasing voltages up to 450 volts to the Learner who, unknown to the Teacher, was part of the experiment. The Learner had previously let the Teacher know he had a "heart" condition. Also, in the beginning, the Teacher didn't know he would be the Teacher, he thought he could have been the Learner.
The Teacher gave the Learner, whom he couldn't see, things to learn and with each wrong answer, the Teacher administered a shock, one which he had been given the chance to experience earlier. After each shock the voltage was increased 15 volts. After a certain point, the Learner, which is now a recording, began to make sounds of distress, which increased in agony and finally went silent. Somewhere along the line, the Teacher began to get uncomfortable and told the Experimenter so. There came a point where the Teacher said they didn't want to continue, but the Experimenter would prod the Teacher first with "please continue", then "this experiment requires that you continue", after that it was, "it is absolutely essential that you continue", and finally, "you have no other choice, you must go on".
If the Teacher refuses at that point, the experiment is over or, if the Teacher administers a final third 450-volt shock, the experiment ends. Teachers even offered to give their money back to be allowed to quit, to which the Experimenter might reply "Although the shocks may be painful, there is no permanent tissue damage, so please go on" or "Whether the learner likes it or not, you must go on until he has learned all the word pairs correctly, so please go on".
Before the experiment began, Milgram surveyed students, where the test subjects came from, and other professors what they expected the likely outcome to be; though groups were clear they thought almost all subjects would quit when their comfort level was exceeded and only thought maybe 3 out of 100 would reach the 450-volt level.
In fact, 26 out of 40 did, or 65%! An astounding result. Another social psychology researcher, Associate Professor of Psychology, Bob Altemeyer, later dubbed a person who exhibits this kind of personality characteristic as a Right-wing Authoritarian (RWA) follower.
(In the middle of this The Atlantic article titled simply The Mind of Donald Trump, you will find a great, more expert discussion of Authoritarianism.)
The Man Who Popularized RWAs
BUY THIS BOOK - Says the Social Dominator
John Dean of Nixon Fame, a Conservative in His Own Right
JOHN DEAN, IN HIS BOOK, "Conservatives Without Conscience", introduced me, last year, to the concept of RWA followers and Social Dominators. He was attempting to distinguish between the Conservatives of his era, the Barry Goldwaters, Richard Nixons, Bob Doles, etc, and the Conservatives of the new generation, e.g., Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Mitch McConnell, and the like, as well as the people who became their supporters.
Dean's book, which I keep trying to plug, unsuccessfully so far, I might add even though it is extremely interesting and easy to read, is not so much an opinion piece but a presentation of Professor Alteman's research, in detail. While I will only summarize it here, Dean does a wonderful job in bringing the reader to a clear understanding of what drives the army of supporters of today's conservative movement, for they are quite different than those who support the Conservatives of the past.
What are the RWA Characteristics?
NOW, WHILE I briefly describe the 12 traits of a Right-wing Authoritarian, think to yourself if you know anybody or have seen anybody on television or heard on the radio anybody who might fit some or all of these characteristics. If you have, my bet is they will score very high on Bob Altemeyer's Right-wing Authoritarian assessment. Hopefully, you don't find yourself coming to mind, but if you do, don't despair, that can be a good thing because the research also shows that once a RWA discovers this about themselves, they can often change.
The 12 traits are as follows:
- Fear: RWAs are afraid of many things. It can be said that many people are afraid of many different things, but RWAs carry this to the next level of irrational fear, even when there is no factual basis for it. They are afraid that Obama is a Socialist, a Communist, or will become a dictator; they are afraid of teaching secular science to our youth, they are deathly afraid the burgeoning national debt will spell the end of America; they are afraid that a single regulation on guns will lead to a total prohibition of gun ownership in America, and the list goes on. No amount of reasoning or facts will dissuade high scoring RWAs of their fears so long as their Authoritarian leaders tell them to be afraid.
- Self-Righteous: If you run into someone who appears inordinately self-righteous, then you are probably observing a snob or a RWA follower. If that self-righteousness takes on a holy-than-thou or "more patriotic than thou" flavor, then most likely you have a high scoring RWA.
- Dogmatism: This characteristic is a clear signal a person is likely to be a high scoring RWA, whether on the extreme Right or the extreme Left. What they are told to believe is set in stone and nothing short of a nuclear blast is going to move them from their core beliefs. All of the provable, clear, certain facts in the world will not change an RWAs mind. If, for example, Rush Limbaugh says 1 plus 1 now equals three because 1 plus 1 equals 2 is a left-wing liberal subversive plot to destroy America, the RWA will, until Rush says differently, believe 1 plus 1 equals 3 and will do his or her best to twist and turn their logic and arguments to support this view.
- Authoritarian Submission :This is the characteristic I just described in Milgram's experiment. If we are talking politics, however, instead of Teacher-Learner, what this means is that whatever people like Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Sarah Palin, Senator Mitch McConnell, Speaker John Boehner, or Representative Bachmann from Minnesota have to say, it becomes gospel, it is simply the Truth to those who follow them. No further thought or reasoning by the listener is needed for the authority has spoken, if the listener is a high-scoring RWA. In religious terms, this might be the late Jerry Falwell, the late Jim Jones, the late Martin Luther, the Pope, any evangelical or fundamentalist preacher. RWAs will accept, without questioning its reasonableness, what is said, they will repeat it, and they will defend it.
- Hostility: RWAs frequently become hostile when confronted. It is not because they are naturally mean, far from it. It has more to do with extreme frustration with their inability to logically defend their positions, which are often contradictory. Because they accept their position as gospel from their SD authoritarian leaders, they have not reasoned through why this position makes sense. So, when questioned about it, all they are left with are slogans and anger. There were many examples of this hostility at many of the Town Hall meetings held around the country leading up to the November 2010 elections.
- "Biggest Problem" Syndrome: RWAs tend to focus on the Big Problem of the day, be it drugs, the liberal take-over of America, the national debt, drugs, or other such crisis conjured up by their Social Dominator leaders.
- Compartmentalized Thinking: RWAs accept what they are told; lock, stock, and barrel, and file it away in their memory; this is a function of taking their lead from their Social Dominator Authoritarian leaders. Many of these positions end up being contradictory with each other or with reality, but, that is OK, because all of the ideas, since they are not processed mentally and only memorized, are not integrated in that persons thinking. Therefore, you have an individual who ends up believing they are living under an Obama/Democratic dictatorship with no rights at all while, at the same time, expressing their opinion about this by freely using their 1st Amendment rights.
- Double Standards: This is included as an RWA characteristic but I am not sure why. It has been my observation that double standards in society is ubiquitous and not just isolated to one group or another.
- Feeling Empowered Within Groups:Again true on the extremes, because RWAs are followers of authority figures, if follows they must be conforming individuals. Because they don't think for themselves, they have to look toward others to let them know how they should be acting. Consequently, alone, a RWA may even be timid, but with a demonstrating group, the RWA feels empowered to demonstrate vigorously alongside his fellow RWAs; high scoring RWAs feel most comfortable with groups where they get support and validation.
- Prejudice:Most RWAs honestly do not believe they are prejudiced when, if truth, their actions and speech clearly show they are. Why? Because this type of personality does not believe all people in the world should be equal, inequality is a natural state of affairs to a high scoring RWA. They sincerely believe that equality is not good for society. This simply makes sense to them and doesn't derive from meanness; the women being "bare-foot and pregnant" syndrome (meaning women should be subservient to the man). There is still a significant portion of American society, mainly fundamentalist Christians, both men and women,who still believe this, because the most authoritarian figure of all says so ... God, Himself. They don't see a problem because they believe this is simply the "natural" order of the universe. much the same way that Aristotle believed, and argued for, the idea of "natural" masters and "natural" slaves. (Slavery, in his time didn't have quite the same connotation as it does in our time; for one thing, it wasn't race based.) This view becomes a basis for their politics.
- Ethnocentrism:This is a characteristic in all people, but it becomes more pronounced as you move to either extreme, Left or Right. It is more prominent with RWAs, again, Left or Right, however. There has to be a "Them vs Us" paradigm in order to validate what they believe. They rarely go beyond their circle of believers to receive information while characterizing others as very biased, e.g., the left-wing or liberal mainstream media.
- A Lack of Critical Thinking:This characteristic is central to the RWA type for if a person exhibited critical thinking regarding what they were being told regardless of source, including the Social Dominators, then they would less likely be blind followers of Authority figures. One of the most stark exemplars of this is that most Tea Parteyers, who are middle class, absolutely believe their taxes have been raised under President Obama when, in fact, they have been noticeably reduced. The only reason for this unreasonable belief is their total, unthinking reliance on what they are told by their SD leaders. If the "Teachers" in Milgram's experiment had really thought about the implications of what they were doing, most would not have kept increasing the voltage when told to by the scientist. This is also where frustration can build when confronted about opposing positions such as asking an RWA how, in one breath, they can say "America is the best country in the world" but yet in the next breath say "Obama is now a dictator".
You will find a few of these traits wrapped up in what should be a familiar description many of you may recognize: An RWA when faced with truly logical evidence that contradicts the position of his or her authoritarian leader, rather than say "I'll get back to you" and go back and challenge their leader, they let their intelligence devolve into stubbornness, rhetoric, dogmatism, and finally anger.
Not included in the above list is Empathy or the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It has been my observation that one distinction between high scoring and low-scoring RWAs is that the high-scoring RWAs lack empathy. Well, a recent study I found changed my mind somewhat. Now I must put a nuance on it. The study by the journal Behavioral Brain Research concluded that liberals and conservatives both exhibit empathetic behavior to roughly the same degree. What is different, however, is who they are empathetic towards.
Liberals, it turns out, are empathetic to others, in general. Conservatives, on the hand, are empathetic, but only, for the most part, with their own kin. And that makes sense to me.
Go here if you want to know your Empathy Quotient
How do you Know You RWA Tendency Is?
BY TAKING AN ASSESSMENT, OF COURSE. What the assessment does is ask a series of ambiguous questions that center around each of the traits just described above. The higher you score on this assessment, the more likely you are to be an RWA because you express those characteristics found most often in that personality type. Know that an RWA does not make an SD, a Social Dominator, who is often seen in negative terms.. While RWAs believe they are doing right, and most often are, the SDs generally are not and most often for very selfish reasons. Said another way, one major difference between Social Dominators (the leaders) and the RWAs (the Army) is that the SDs know whether they are lying or not, while the RWAs do not, they simply trust their SD leaders to be telling them the Truth.
The assessment below doesn't speak to your "conservativeness" or "liberalness", or lack thereof for Conservatives and Liberals come in all varieties, including those who think for themselves and are not Social Dominators; I suspect that is the large majority of those who think of themselves as conservative and the vast majority the liberals plus virtually all of those who fall in between, however, they are out of power at the moment. What the assessment does try to predict is the level of acceptance an individual might have in following their chosen authority figure, regardless of their own personal perceptions, just like the "Teachers" in Milgram's experiment who went beyond their comfort level simply because the "Doctor" told them to. The higher the score, the more likely it is for you to fall into this trap. Once aware that you have this tendency, you can guard against it by engaging your mind and weighing what the other side is saying, be it Left or Right (yes, there are high score Liberal RWAs, just not as many of them), their reasoning and their facts, then compare it to what your authority figuring is saying AND to what your own research of both Liberal and Conservative sources brings up.
Now, let's see where you stack up on the RWA scale. The following assessment has 22 ambiguous statements, which are based on the actual assessments, to which you have a bunch of choices for answers as to the degree you agree or disagree with the statement. Be aware that some of the statements have more than one part and you may fell one way about one part, but a different way about another part. What you do in that case is "average" you answer. For example, what if you "Strongly Agreed" with the first part of a statement, but "Strongly Disagreed" with the second part; you answer then would be "Neutral". But then you think to yourself, "but wait, I am not "Neutral" on this whole statement but sort of lean toward agreeing with it; in that case, you might pick "Barely Agree" or "Slightly Agree".
Keep in mind the results of this assessment, just like the actual, professionally given ones, only have validity in the aggregate, not individual results. Granted, your result may give you an idea of where you may rank, it is certainly not set in concrete. Having said that, once there are enough results, even in this survey, because it is a difference survey and because we are looking at aggregate results, the results are valid for comparing the self-identified Left-leaners with the self-identified Right-leaners; and not the "skew" each distribution will show. I am aware the distributions of each graph will probably be skewed to the left (more lower scores) because a few higher scorers will not feel inclined to report their scores; this will probably be more prevalent for the Left-leaners.
Right-Wing Authoritarian Assessment (Modified)view quiz statistics
THERE ARE THREE SURVEYS (one brand new one as of 3/16/15) below, one for those who agree with the Right a lot, the second for those who agree with the Left a lot, and the new poll, one who think of themselves as politically in the middle or something else. Please choose the survey which fits your political leanings.
HELP THE READERS UNDERSTAND THE DEMOGRAPHIC INFORMATION BY TAKING ONE OF THE TWO POLLS BELOW
If you consider yourself a Republican or Repbulican-Leaning Independent, Did You:
After 85 results:
- # Scored above 74%: .............. 8
- # Scored between 50 - 74%: . 10
- # Scored between 25 - 49%:,, 20
- # Scored below 25%: ............ 47
IF you consider yourself truly Independent, lean Left or Right depending on the issue or something else, DID YOU...
In The Middle
After 18 results:
- # Scored above 74%: ............. 0
- # Scored between 50 - 74%: .. 1
- # Scored between 25 - 49%: .. 3
- # Scored below 25%: ............. 13
Come On Y'all, Don't Be Shy, Let Us Know Where You Scored :-)
If you consider yourself a Democrat or Democrat-Leaning Independent, Did You:
After 178 results:
- # Scored above 74%: ............... 4
- # Scored between 50 - 74%: .... 2
- # Scored between 25 - 49%: .. 13
- # Scored below 25%: ............ 159
A Composite View
After 281 results:
- # Scored above 74%: ............. 12 (4%)
- # Scored between 50 - 74%: .. 13 (5%)
- # Scored between 25 - 49%: .. 36 (13%)
- # Scored below 25%: ............ 219 (78%)
Are You -
The Book Behind This Hub
A WORD ABOUT THE ABOVE SURVEY RESULTS
IT SHOULD BE NOTED THAT some commenters will say my sampling is highly biased due to the filtering effect which takes place as people find their way to this Hub and then decide to take the survey. Normally, that would have to be taken into account when reviewing what the surveys show, such as with my Hub on Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, but not, I think, in this case.
That is because the responses to the three surveys are being compared with each other. Consequently, the fact that I don't have a "random" sample of Left-leaning vs Right-leaning responders is no longer important; it is enough that there is a sufficient number of survey takers from each camp to provide meaningful results.
For instance, even if not all of the truly high scoring RWAs from either the Right-leaning, Independent, or Left-leaning groups were interested in sharing the survey results, it doesn't really matter so long as there is a sufficient number of results to provide meaningful numbers.
What I am looking for in this analysis is to see if the "distribution" or "shape" of the results from each political camp are different or not. My hypothesis is that they are and, so long as the sample size for each self-identified group is large enough, the results should reflect a "typical" distribution for each side. Even if the distributions of a particular political view are off somewhat in magnitude and frequency, it only matters that the distribution itself is roughly right. What is important is the measurement of the comparative shape and parameters between the two systems.
By inspection, the Democratic results appear to be entirely consistent with the philosophy that brings people into the Democratic Party. The fact that there are a few high scores for liberals would not be unexpected for it simply speaks to the diversity of people in general. It is the skewness of the distribution that tells the story.
The Republican results are also consistent with the findings of Professor Alteman.for three reasons: 1) The fact that because, in the general population, high scoring RWA's aren't that common, the distribution will be skewed to the lower scores, 2) the fact the distribution seems "flatter" than the one for the Democrats strongly suggests a different believe-set and one that is more oriented to leaders and control; given the way the survey is scored, and 3) if the skew of the independents fall between those on the Right and Left (there aren't enough results yet to really tell) then that would be further corroboration that there are significant differences between them.
Unlike the top scale of the Social Dominator survey, there is nothing manipulative or spiteful about a high-scoring RWA, it merely defines a particular set of beliefs which are honestly held and, from that person's point of view, with good reason. Nevertheless, it is, as you can see, a system of belief and perception about life that clearly separates those who see themselves as politically Left-leaning and those who think of themselves as politically Right-leaning.
8/16/12: And now there are 40 results, 15 from the Republicans and 25 from the Democrats. Their respective percentages from the top of the scale to the bottom currently are: 7%, 27%, 13%, 53% (R) and 4%, 4%, 4%, 88% (D). Could the distribution of these percentages simply occur by chance? Well, a little yes, but mostly no.
It is almost impossible, when you calculate the probabilities, to get the Democrats results,solely by chance, even with only 25 votes. The probability you can get that type of result is something less that 1 out of 2.2 x 10 -13times. For the Republican survey, the distribution of the bottom three possibilities by chance is more likely, but not much. Only the distribution between the second and fourth rows might be by chance. Further, while the mathematics is a bit more complicated, I can show that the difference in distributions between the Republicans and Democrats is extremely unlikely to have happened by chance either, all of this on just 40 results, isn't statistics wonderful?
What this tells us, ta-da, is that something else is going on; there are dynamics taking place to cause the distributions you see within each survey and between each survey and that the dynamics are different the Republicans and Democrats. The general dynamics are explained in the Hub. For details about each distribution, we will need many more results.
12/3/13: We have more results, 131 of them. Compare the distributions with those over a year ago. These is still a significant difference between the shapes of the two distributions, but with over three times a many surveys, I can say those differences are statistically significant. Today, the Republican results from highest score to lowest, are 10%, 15%, 27%, and 49%, a more realistic distribution, although with only 41 Republican returns, the amplitude of these figures will change, there is less likelihood the shape will change much as more results come in.
For the Left-leaning, with 90 results, that highly skewed shape ( 2%, 1%, 8%, 89%) is more certain to remain the same, especially since, it hasn't changed that much from last year. What has surprised me the most is how skewed this distribution remained with 89% of those leaning to the Left scoring in the lowest ranking. The difference between how those on the political Right and those on the Left see the world is remarkable, isn't it. It says volumes about why Congress has come to a stand-still given where the majority of Republicans stand on the political spectrum and the movement of the Democrats to the Left with the defeat in recent years of the more conservative elements.
12/7/14: There are now 55 politically Right-leaning and 128 Left-leaning results. The 91-7-1-2 distribution for those veering Left is still starkly different from the 53-25-13-9 distribution seen on the Right. It is little changed from 2013 and is very strong evidence that the the two political philosophies spring from fundamentally different ideas regarding the relative importance individualism within a societal structure.
2/20/15: With 60 Right-leaning responses, I don't expect the shape of the distribution to change from here on out. Obviously, the same is true with the larger sample for Left-leaning respondents. Has I pointed out in earlier discussion, the point of this Hub was to show that Right-leaning readers respond differently than the Left-leaning ones to the same set of questions. There should be no question now, with distributions of 50-25-14-11 and 88-8-1-3, Right and Left respectively, that they do.
(I took the test for Donald Trump and Ted Cruz answering the questions the way I think they would; when I was uncertain, I answered the same way. And they scored 93% on the SDO test and 83% on the RWA survey.)
Findings From Altemeyer's Studies
- Between 1990 and 1993, Professor Altemeyer conducted surveys of American State legislators as well as legislators from his home country of Canada. He sent surveys to legislators in 42 states, forgoing, for whatever reason, Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Rhode Island, and West Viriginia; none, I notice have large populations. His findings were from the 1233 who responded, and converting from his scale to the one you just took, you get:
- Democrats had a median score of 46%, with a low of 29% and a high of 75%
- Republicans had a median score of 62% with a low of 46% and a high of 75%
- Lowest four Democratic states were WI, OR, MI, and WA, while the highest four were TN, LA, GA, and way off in the distance, MS.
- Lowest four Republican states were CT, MA, NM, WA, while the highest were NC, GA, TN, and KY.
As you can see that, as expected, you have much more dispersion in the Democratic party because it is a much more politically diverse party that has a well defined right, center, and left wings. On the other hand, it was in early 90s where the Conservatives and Religious Right were consolodating there hold on the Republican party. If such a survey were held today, I would be surprised to find the median Republican score greater than 75%.
One final point I offer from this part of Altemeyer's book "The Authoritarian" is this closing paragraph from the State legislature study:
"Stomp Out the Rot.
One last thing: an item on the RWA scale that I used in these legislator studies goes, “Once our government leaders and the authorities condemn the dangerous elements in our society, it will be the duty of every patriotic citizen to help stomp out the rot that is poisoning our country from within.” It’s a ridiculous statement, isn’t it? People usually laugh when I read it out loud to an audience. It sounds like it came out of some Nazi Cheer Book. And a solid majority of the legislators who wrote the laws in American states when I did these studies rejected it. But 26 percent of the 1,233 lawmakers in my samples agreed with this. That's already half-way to a majority. And in terms of later developments, I’ll point out that these studies were all done before 1994."
In the Canadian study, similar results were found. One difference in the Canadian political parties is that the New Democratic Party is about as cohesive on the left is our Conservative Party is on the right today, and it shows up in the following results:
- New Democrats median RWA score was 29%, with a low of 19% and a high of 38%, they are much left of the left wing of our Democratic Party
- The conservative Alliance Party's median score was 60%, with a low of 48% and high of 67%, very similar to our Republican Party.
Nevertheless, the relationships are still the same, the more conservative you are, generally, the higher a RWA score you will have and will support or champion the kind of authoritarian, non-egalitarian policies that are characteristic of high RWA individuals.
The DOUBLE HIGH
AS DESCRIBED IN MY hub on Social Dominators (SDs), they are a driven bunch, driven to power. The higher on the SD scale they score, the more driven they are and the more likely they are to do whateverit takes to reach the particular pinnacle of power they seek; high scoring SDs hold nothing sacred or honorable. Well, SDs do not have to be high scoring RWAs, but they can be.
When they are, this person is called a "Double High" and will have not only all of the attributes of both the high scoring SDs and the high scoring RWAs; this can be a powerful and potentially dangerous combination which I will discuss in future hubs.
What Professor Altemeyer found was that many of the higher scoring RWAs in his study, that I presented in the last section, also presented tendencies toward Social Dominance orientation as well, however, the scale had not been fully developed at that time so he is only estimating based on questions he asked. Altemeyer noted that it is only natural that political bodies would have a bias toward SD-types because that would a natural next step for a SDs quest for Power.
Note also, this was in the early 90s, I can only imagine how many "double highs" are in the State legislatures and Congress given the 2010 sweep by the Conservatives and the Tea Party.
I will leave this hub at this point and pick it up again with a more in-depth look at what RWAs support and don't support, what positions they adopt and those they find morally objectionable. It should go along way to understanding why we are in the predicament we are in today.
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© 2011 Scott Belford