Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Analysis | Trump’s authoritarian lean appeals to the right. Swing voters, not so much.

Analysis | Trump’s authoritarian lean appeals to the right. Swing voters, not so much.


Democrats’ response to the growing tempest over whether President Biden should stay in the 2024 race has been to focus like a laser on something else: Project 2025. The project is a detailed and aggressive plan from top allies of Donald Trump to push American government far to the right and vest more power in Trump’s hands.

Trump is now straining to distance himself from the project, despite its overlap with his own priorities and his many links to it. (A CNN review found that six former Trump Cabinet secretaries have been involved, as have at least 140 people who worked in the Trump administration.)

A new poll gets at why both sides are doing what they’re doing — and how important the intensifying clash could be to the stretch run of the 2024 campaign.

It suggests that if Democrats can drive home the idea that a second Trump term would be a more authoritarian one, that could alienate the most crucial 2024 voters, the “double haters.”

Those double haters — the approximately 1 in 5 voters who dislike both Biden and Trump — tend to be the least authoritarian-leaning voters of all.

The Monmouth University poll is one of the most extensive looks to date at Americans’ attitudes toward authoritarianism. And like others before it, the poll shows that Republicans are significantly more inclined toward the idea.

After asking a battery of questions to gauge voters’ authoritarian proclivities, it found that 7 in 10 voters who liked Trump rated “above average” on its authoritarian-belief scale. That’s compared with about 3 in 10 voters who liked Biden.

(The questions included whether we should “get rid of the rotten apples who are ruining everything,” whether we need “a strong, determined leader who will crush evil,” and whether it is “the duty of every patriotic citizen to help stomp out the rot that is poisoning the country from within.”)

But the double haters were even less likely than Democrats to embrace such ideas. Overall, just 2 in 10 rated above average on authoritarian beliefs.

While just 4 percent of voters who like Trump rated “low” on their authoritarian beliefs, a 56 percent majority of double haters did.

Any such scale is only as good as the questions that are used. But to get a sense for the specific differences between double haters and Trump supporters:

  • Just 23 percent of double haters strongly agree that we should “get rid of the rotten apples who are ruining everything,” compared with 63 percent of voters who like Trump.
  • Just 19 percent of double haters strongly agree that we need “a strong, determined leader who will crush evil and take us back to our true path,” compared with 75 percent who like Trump.
  • While even Democrats lean slightly in favor of that second idea, double haters lean against it, 45 percent to 36 percent.
  • A 53 percent majority of double haters strongly disagree with this statement: “This country would work a lot better if certain groups of troublemakers would just shut up and accept their traditional place in society.” Only 16 percent of voters who like Trump strongly disagreed with that.
  • While double haters oppose that last sentiment 68 percent to 16 percent, voters who like Trump favor it by double digits.

There’s a real question of just how much these attitudes pertain specifically to ideas like Project 2025. Maybe double haters notionally oppose authoritarian ideals, for instance, but support strongman policies like mass deportation when it’s an issue they care about. And the fact that double haters don’t embrace these strong statements could simply reflect how they are less engaged and feel less strongly about the state of affairs — something that’s generally true of swing voters.

But Project 2025 is clearly a useful shorthand for Democrats. In one phrase, it embodies the politically potent idea of powerful people working behind the scenes to drive things in a more extreme direction and to put much more power in the hands of a former president that these double haters, it should be emphasized, don’t like.

While the official Republican Party is shying away from a detailed platform that could alienate voters, Project 2025’s detailed proposals are out there for everyone to consume — potentially via Democratic attack ads — and render judgment on.

The fact that Trump is now straining to distance himself from Project 2025 is telling. The trick for Democrats is in making it stick to him.

Of course, among the many other problems with Biden’s debate performance two weeks ago was that he didn’t mention Project 2025 even once.



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