Back to All Events

Change and Resistance: How Authoritarianism Structures Partisan Conflict in the United States

  • United States Studies Centre, Boardroom Institute Building City Rd, Darlington, University of Sydney Australia (map)

Increasing partisan polarization has been one of the defining characteristics of American politics over the past two decades. We know that Democrats and Republicans have become more consistently sorted on ideology and issue preferences but the underlying dynamics of this sorting process are less well understood. Looking at national survey data from 1992 to 2016, Professor Stanley Feldman argues that people high in authoritarianism -- the desire for strong in-group cohesion and common social norms -- have responded to social change by becoming more consistently Republican.

This led to a growing difference between Republicans and Democrats in levels of authoritarianism and has widened the gap between the parties on many contemporary issues, with supporters of each party increasingly more likely to take different positions on race, immigration, law and order and terrorism. A focus on the role of authoritarianism helps to better understand the consequences of social change for partisan conflict in the US. In this talk, Professor Stanley Feldman discusses the implications of this for the types of presidential candidates that are likely to be selected by the primary voters of each party. In particular, an increasingly authoritarian Republican primary electorate has become increasingly willing to support presidential candidates that use authoritarian language about outgroups, race, and crime; helping pave the road to electoral success for Donald Trump.