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on February 28, 2016
This book's a total eye-opener in so many different ways. I spend time with people from a wide range of political and religious and work backgrounds, and find the Myers-Briggs personality characteristics of Judging vs Perceiving seems to explain a lot about how people react differently to the same situations. I often wondered what results you would get if someone measured how much the two political parties and different religious groups and denominations draw more people with either judging or perceiving personality types (Republicans/Democrats, evangelical Christians, Catholics, mainline Protestants, and unaffiliated/secular types, etc). If you're not familiar with Myers-Briggs personality types, judging types tend to reach decisions more quickly and see things in more black-and-white terms, while perceiving types are more likely to take time to make decisions, gather more evidence first, and aren't troubled by complexity and uncertainty. The best I could find when I tried an online search last year was some paper written by an undergrad who hardly looked at the judging/perceiving dimension of Myers-Briggs.

Yet even though I was primed to agree with their conclusions, I was blown away by just how strongly authoritarian/non-authoritarian personality types explain voting behavior.

I tend to view "trust" first and foremost in terms of honesty, accuracy, and telling the truth. So it baffled me how some candidates for the nomination in 2016 who score the very worst on PolitiFact fact checks would receive far more votes or consistently do better in polls than their opponents. My built-in assumption was that Americans will trust candidates who makes mostly accurate statements and distrust candidates who tell them lots of big whoppers.
Hetherington and Weiler explain my assumption is a logical one: IF you're coming from the standpoint of people who rank as strongly NON-authoritarian on their scale. However about half of Americans lean towards the authoritarian end of their scale and when they perceive any kind of threat to "us" or "our team," these Americans first and foremost trust someone who shares their worldview and their personality type, rather than basing their trust on the accuracy of their individual statements. (see p. 44-46 hardcover ed, "Accuracy motivation")

My biggest criticism of a lot of political writing is that it makes assertions without convincing evidence. Anyone can select some anecdotes, examples and numbers to support their argument. Not this book. The evidence they present is amazing. The other reviewers are correct, the statistics make some parts of the book pretty dry reading. At the same time, it's the rigorous and careful statistics work that leaves me absolutely convinced their arguments are correct. Using data from sources like National Election Survey, they use statistical methods to demonstrate, for instance, that if you take an evangelical Christian who ranks high on the four authoritarian questions and compare them with an otherwise identical evangelical Christian who ranks low authoritarian, you find vast differences in responses to questions. And some of these authoritarian/non-authoritarian differences may be even larger than if you look at political party identification or labels like liberal or conservative. So rather than just reinforcing sweeping stereotypes about Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, and evangelicals and Catholics and secular non-believers, the authors demonstrate they have identified a personality characteristic that sometimes has an even bigger impact on political opinions and voting than these groups and labels. They've convinced me that this authoritarianism personality trait explains even more than I ever imagined.

And while this book probably has way too much nuance for most authoritarians, the authors say it's also too simplistic to simply label people as unchanging authoritarians or non-authoritarians. They argue that when Americans perceive a threat, moderate authoritarians are more likely to vote and behave like authoritarians, and some (not all) non-authoritarians are more likely to vote and behave like moderate authoritarians. So while authoritarians feel consistently threatened by difference and change and shades of gray most all the time, if Americans can be made to feel fearful and threatened and insecure, non-authoritarians will begin to vote more like authoritarians. And they say this means that understanding what causes changes in voting and attitudes of non-authoritarians may be even more important to understand than the more unchanging authoritarians.

Their views on immigration are another eye-opener. The authors argue that as a perfectly logical approach to win each coming election, the Republican party has positioning itself more and more to appeal to authoritarians since the 1970s, and that President Ford (not elected) was the last Republican president who did not fit this mold. The authors cover issues like national security, crime, race, gay marriage, civil rights, and terrorism and show how this was largely the result of intentional top-down decisions by Republican political elites to focus on "wedge" issues which encourage the more authoritarian to feel threatened and vote with their gut. Many Republican elites did not want the party to be anti-immigration, feeling it was against their long-run interests to alienate the Latino vote. The authors argue that because these other wedge issues all had the unified effect of attracting authoritarian personality types away from the Democratic party to the Republican party, Republican party elites (such as Bush) who tried to pursue immigration reform found themselves blocked by a strong grassroots opposition on immigration.

Some have said America's two political parties today both have evolved a politically-convenient constellation of opinions which are ideologically inconsistent. In "The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics" Christopher Lasch does a marvelous job of showing just how much the notion of "conservative" made a complete reversal in some ways between 1940 and the 1980s. Hetherington and Weiler point out that while they may not seem intellectually or ideologically consistent from the standpoint of New Deal era political issues, today's Republican and Democratic parties are growing more and more consistently centered around authoritarian vs non-authoritarian personality types. So while the constellation of party positions today may seem highly inconsistent from the intellectual standpoint of a libertarian or a fiscal conservative, Republican elites cannot now pick and choose which issues they want to champion at random. Republican positions are growing more and more consistent when you view the party from a gut-level emotional and personality perspective.

And by no means are the eye-openers only about the Republican party. The authors dedicate a chapter to showing how in 2008 Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama may have taken very similar policy positions on the issues, yet Democratic voters were deeply divided between them based on more authoritarian vs less authoritarian personalities in the Democratic Party. How interesting that you can understand so little about the dynamics of that nomination fight based on policy positions, however you can suddenly explain a great deal if you know the answer to four questions about preferences in child-rearing.

And it probably goes without saying, but this book written in 2010 offers a spot-on explanation for why someone like Donald Trump can get more votes from evangelical Christians and conservatives in South Carolina than a candidate like Ted Cruz - a candidate who thought he was positioned correctly on all the issues to be the favorite of these voting blocs. The bottom line is, most American voters care a lot less about issues than either the Republican party or the Democratic party think.

Ideally you'd want to have some background in statistics to fully appreciate this book. However if you don't, their succinct political history of the past 40-50 years makes this book highly worth the read all by itself. I'm impressed that Hetherington and Weiler do put in explanations of things like regressions for people who don't remember Stats 101. Most books either leave out the statistics altogether, or else don't bother to explain them for the non-statisticians, so the authors are trying very hard to make the book accessible to a wider audience without throwing out their strong evidence in the process.
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on February 14, 2010
I can say for myself why this book is so important, but I will just quote form Nicholas Kristoff's
recent column about the book:

The book establishes "a fascinating framework of the role of personality types in politics, explored in a recent book, "Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics," by two political scientists, Marc J. Hetherington of Vanderbilt University and Jonathan D. Weiler of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They start by exploring data showing a remarkably strong correlation between state attitudes toward spanking children and voting patterns. Essentially, spanking states go Republican, while those with more timeouts go Democratic.

Professors Hetherington and Weiler contend that the differences stem from profound differences in cognitive styles. Spankers tend to see the world in stark, black-and-white terms, perceive the social order as vulnerable or under attack, tend to make strong distinctions between "us" and "them," and emphasize order and muscular responses to threats. Parents favoring timeouts feel more comfortable with ambiguities, sense less threat, embrace minority groups -- and are less prone to disgust when they see a man eating worms."

So we have worldviews about many things, which means that how we raise our children maps on to
our political views. This is a very important explanation about the differences between red and
blue states.
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on March 30, 2010
Because I'm working on a book in the area of personality and politics, one of the criteria on which I based my selection of this book came from one of its reviews indicating it addressed personality dimensions in relation to political orientation. It doesn't. While the book does center around the construct of authoritarianism, the authors emphasize that they are addressing authoritarianism as a worldview and attitude--not a dimension of personality. Perhaps the reviewer missed that distinction, although it can be an important one, depending on one's motivation for selecting this book. This is not to criticize the perspective the authors have chosen to take (they are political scientists and not psychologists), but to clarify how they approach authoritarianism. (In terms of dimensions of personality, you may want to do a little research on "The Big Five." These are probably the most "popular" personality dimensions within the psychology community. Some of these dimensions may be alluded to in the book, but only by inference. Wikipedia has a decent summary of them.)

Another useful attribute of the book for potential readers is its tone. While academic in nature, it hardly requires a PhD to understand the authors premises. But it also does not have the popular appeal of say Twenge and Campbell's "The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement." Assertions are invariably referenced which may be a drag for some readers but a boon for others.

Given the political climate in which we (Americans) currently live, this book provides a useful framework (authoritarianism) for understanding what's going on--at least from a social if not an individual level. Then again, the lack of impact of personality characteristics and how those are generated and relate to political behavior is what is motivating me to write my book.

Since I haven't yet finished "Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics," I can't say how or whether the authors address the problems they uncover. But I hope I've read enough to provide some useful decision-making information for prospective readers.
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on January 17, 2016
For people wondering about the popularity of Trump and Cruz, I point them to this book and "The Authoritarians" by Altemeyer which is available free online. For anyone else, I also believe that they should read these books. The largest empire, whose military alone produces 5% of global emissions, is nominally at least still a democracy. A conversation about American politics without understanding authoritarianism is unlikely to be productive.
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on March 2, 2016
The authors’ analysis assumes to a degree that non-authoritarians will lean Democratic, and authoritarians will lean Republican. On p. 141, they recognize that, despite African-Americans being the most authoritarian racial group, they are consistently tied to the Democratic Party, so they remove blacks from their model. Is this problematic to simply remove an entire – and substantial – racial group from an analysis because it doesn’t fit your analytical definitions? Should there be more discussion of why blacks are more authoritarian (predominantly lower incomes, historically underprivileged, lower education rates, etc.)?

The authors, after setting up their measure of authoritarianism (child rearing preferences), go on to refer to authoritarianism as an inherent or “natural” disposition within individuals. They state that authoritarian people simply: a) have fewer cognitive tools, and b) feel more threat from ambiguity. They link less authoritarianism to greater education, but do not explore the roots of authoritarianism, but rather take it for granted as just “how some people are”. Can the link between privilege, education, and lack of threats in one’s life to non-authoritarianism explain why, many “authoritarian” populations are generally in impoverished regions?

In the analysis of chapter 9, which found that less authoritarian Democrats chose Obama over Hillary, how would factoring in the black vote change their findings? Would the roughly 9-to-1 margin of blacks (who are “predominantly more authoritarian”) who voted for Obama over Hillary spoil their conclusion?
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on November 4, 2012
Since the 1960's a big sort has been going on in American politics. Hetherington and Weiler (H&W) argue that the left and the right have become sorted not merely on the basis of issues or even on the basis of ideology but on something deeper. That something deeper is personality.

What do H&W mean by personality? In the book they specify there are large numbers of people who feel at an instinctive level the need to question authority while, in direct contrast, there is another large group who feel the need for order.

After WW II a vast literature was developed on what is now known as the authoritarian disposition. Those who score high in authoritarianism tend to have a greater need for order and to protect the existing norms of society than those who score low; they more easily perceive threats to order and norms and behave aggressively toward those groups perceived as threats. Those who score high also tend to see the world in concrete, black and white terms while those who score low see shades of grey and look for the complexity of things.

H&W are of the view that the personality disposition of authoritarianism is now the fundamental demarcation between Republicans and Democrats. As an example one can see this disposition at work on the issue of how to deal with terrorist threats and what civil liberties can be violated to sustain order. The different positions taken on this issue argue H&W are in large measure a function of one's level of authoritarianism. To a perilous degree each side has little or no empathy for the other's position, they not only talk past each other but fail to understand or even to accept the other's position as legitimate. These are dangerous waters, as the example of France in the time of Dreyfus and its aftermath well demonstrates.
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on June 22, 2011
This book is easy to read and provides important if not penetrating insights into how to better understand some of the extraordinary dynamics being generated by the right to far right side of the political spectrum. Authoritarianism while not well accepted by many offers an important perspective in terms of psychological/social elements of how a large group of people can arrive at a position of blind adherence to what are often ineffective and more recently highly destructive social, political and financial ideologies. I strongly recommend the book to anyone wishing to gain insight into contemporary political and social dynamics.
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on May 6, 2011
Although this book is horribly dry reading (it IS a scientific study), it is fascinating to see what makes people conservative or liberal and how this difference can be ascertained. In addition, the authors delve into exactly when this split in the great chasm between the political ideologies happened and what caused it.

I've always wondered how we came to see have the political deadlock we have found ourselves in for the last several years. This book sheds a light on the subject that no other book has.
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on April 9, 2016
Personally found this account of the political system in America revealing. To my chagrin I realize that I am an unreconstructed authoritarian and for that reason I found the book a valuable experience. Also, many of the issues covered in the text are quite relevant to the current election cycle and in fact show the reason for candidate's Trump popularity as well as for that of Sanders, as examples of the Authoritarian and Non- Authoritarian camps respectively. With respect to my assigning only three stars, I found that the authors omitted, in the analysis of the primary battle between Clinton and Obama, the fact that the DNC penalized the States of Florida and Michigan for holding their voting earlier than prescribed by party rules. This penalty, in my opinion, was what cost Clinton the nomination.
She also dominated the popular vote in the State contests in 2008, which is an issue this year for Trump, who similarly has a popular vote lead thus far among Republicans.

Highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in politics particularly in this election year.
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on March 28, 2016
While the authors acknowledge that authoritarianism is not the only factor determining how people vote, it does offer a an important perspective on the issue which goes a long way toward explaining the current election campaign. Some background in statistical theory will help in understanding the meaning of the data they present (though not essential if one is willing to accept their explanation of it). Also, I would encourage readers to purchase it in book form; I found the tables and graphs almost impossible to read on my Kindle, which was rather frustrating. But regardless of format, it is well worth the effort.
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