Both Red and Blue candidates have long invoked authoritarianism - BCB #31
Also: US says social media is bad for democracy but other countries don't, Landmark electoral reforms passed
Authoritarianism and populism have long been popular with mainstream presidential candidates
A new study has found that framing and discourse associated with the “radical right”, such as populism, nationalism, and authoritarianism, have actually been routinely invoked by presidential candidates from both parties since 1952. This is something of a challenge to the idea that authoritarian and nationalist ideas have diffused from right to centrist parties.
The authors take populism to mean blaming the country’s problems on corrupt elites, while authoritarianism is the use of state power against internal enemies. Both Red and Blue presidential candidates have invoked these ideas steadily in speeches since 1952 — only the name of the enemy has varied. Consider these populist paragraphs from two 21st century campaign speeches:
It’s going to be a victory for the people. A victory for the everyday citizen whose voice hasn’t been heard. It will be a win for the voters, not the pundits, not the journalists, not the lobbyists, not the global special interests funding my opponent’s campaign.
Finally, the American people must be able to trust that their government is looking out for all of us—not the special interests that have set the agenda in Washington for eight years, and the lobbyists who run [my opponent’s] campaign. I’ve spent my career taking on lobbyists and their money, and I’ve won.
Can you guess which of these these was spoken by Trump in 2016 and which was Obama in 2008?
Here’s a graph with the overall results — each vertically stacked chart measures the use of a different kind of frame in presidential campaign speeches, over time.
This result pairs with a study of authoritarianism published last year, which defined and tested the construct of “left wing authoritarianism.” It may not be surprising that both left- and right-wing authoritarianism is a predictor for political violence. But left-wing authoritarianism is more associated with political violence against the state, while right-wing authoritarianism is more associated with political violence in support of the state.
None of this should be read as saying that Red and Blue politics are equivalent today; this research repeatedly finds that Trump is an outlier. However, the story isn’t as simple as previous analyses suggesting that “radical right” authoritarian and populist ideas have diffused into the mainstream – those ideas were already mainstream, including on the left.
Social media is widely seen as good for democracies, except by the US
34% of U.S. adults think social media has been good for democracy, while 64% say it has had a bad impact, according to a new international survey on social media and its impact on democracies. This is the lowest of any of the 19 advanced economy countries surveyed, where a median of 57% say social media has been more of a good thing for their democracy, while a median of 35% say it has been a bad thing.
Landmark electoral reforms passed to prevent another January 6th
You may have heard that Congress recently passed a massive “omnibus” bill, but you may not know that it includes a section that reforms the Electoral Count Act, the creaky 1887 law that governs the counting of Electoral College votes in Congress.
These reforms clarify that the Vice President has no discretion to reject votes and thereby change the outcome of the election, as Pence was pressured to do. It also raises the standard for objecting to state Electoral College results. Previously, only one member of the House and one Senator needed to vote to open a debate on the validity of a state’s results. This has been increased to a requirement that 20% of the members of each chamber object.
Perhaps surprisingly, election reform has proven popular among both Red and Blue politicians, and these changes were previously in a standalone bill that passed the House in September.
Quote of the Week
Our work should not be used as a political cudgel. Instead it should be used as a piece of information to help us understand the pull of extremism and intolerance. Having clarity about the appeal of authoritarianism may be relevant to help better understand what's going on in the political landscape today.