Trump: Riding the rise of fear in America

By Colin Gulling

The American president often resembles the emotional state of the country within history. What does it say when seven out of ten people have an unfavorable view of Donald Trump, yet he is the current front-runner for the Republican Nomination?

Trump speaks at rally.

Trump speaks at rally.

A Time article published in early April highlights those inconsistencies between Trump’s success and his likability.

“Even in the South, a region where Trump has won GOP primaries decisively, close to 70 percent view him unfavorably. And among whites without a college education, one of Trump’s most loyal voting blocs, 55 percent have a negative opinion,” said Julie Pace and Emily Swanson of Time Magazine.

This is not only an anecdotal concern. Trump’s rise in popularity causes many to compare him and the current state of America to the rise of fascism in the 1920’s. This is a highly studied topic by various political scientists, many of which are not surprised by Trump’s success.

“I think people who are in favor of Trump may not necessarily agree 100% with his views, but they like the idea of having a business man as a candidate as opposed to a politician,” Nora Vonnegut  ‘17, Political Science major , said.

In September, 2015, Matthew MacWilliams, a PhD student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, realized that his dissertation research might hold quantifiable data to predict a Trump success. MacWilliams found that a psychological profile of voters characterized by a desire for order and a fear of outsiders led to a higher preference in authoritarianism, and therefore, a higher preference for Trump.

Matthew MacWilliams, a PhD student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Prediction of Trump Success in South Carolina based on authoritarianism preference from voters.

Matthew MacWilliams, a PhD student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Prediction of Trump Success in South Carolina based on authoritarianism preference from voters.

Fear drives people. MacWilliams found that not only did authoritarianism correlate to Trump support, but it was a more reliable indicator than most to predict a Trump win. Before the primary in South Carolina, MacWilliams repeated his interview-based experiment and found the same results which he published in March.

His findings are not completely shocking to the political science community. As reported by a Vox article in March, Marc Hetherington, a Vanderbilt University professor, realized that he and a fellow political scientist, Jonathan Weiler, of the University of North Carolina had envisioned Trump’s rise back in 2009.

When Hetherington and Weiler published their findings, they concluded that much of the division in American politics is based on authoritarian leadership styles.

If 70% of the country dislikes Trump, the question then becomes, who will stop him?

“[Trump] is at risk of having the nomination denied to him because grass-roots party activists fear he’s so widely disliked that he can’t possible win,” Ari Fleischer said, a former adviser to President George W. Bush.

That grass-roots activism is getting a bolster from billionaires as reported by the Washington Examiner. Nearly a dozen wealthy donors are willing to throw their resources behind the former head of U.S. Central Command, retired Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis. The group has delivered six memos to Mattis outlining how he could win the race in hope that their support would push him to run.

Fervent Trump Supporter at rally.

Fervent Trump supporter at rally.

While fear is a certainly a primary motivator to authoritative preference, a large portion of the 70% who view Trump unfavorably fear what his authoritative policies could do. It seems that fear plays well for Trump’s campaign, but bad for U.S. citizen’s opinions of America in general. Forbes reported in February that the number of U.S. citizens renouncing their citizenship is up 25% since 2014 and up 560% from the Bush Administration era.

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