Authoritarianism and the debt negotiations

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the role of “authoritarianism” in the 2012 GOP nomination, arguing that the higher level of authoritarianism among GOP primary voters will likely make it more difficult for Jon Huntsman to win the nomination (see post here). I also explained that “authoritarianism” is not being a Nazi or a fascist, but rather it is a personality characteristic that leads people to have a higher need for order, seek “clarity in the face of confusion” and eschew nuance and ambiguity. One of its key characteristics is that it leads people to see the world in terms of “black and white” instead of “shades of gray.” I also explained that even though all Republicans are not authoritarians, there is strong statistical evidence that there is a higher average level of authoritarian thinking among Republicans than Democrats in the general U.S. public.

What does this have to do with the current debt ceiling/deficit negotiations? I would think that people who see the world in terms of “black and white” would be less likely to support political compromises because they involve nuance and value trade-offs.

In a recent column, David Brooks (himself a moderate conservative) expressed dismay with the current Republican leadership for their unwillingness to compromise on the debt issue. He writes:

They [many in the Republican leadership] do not see politics as the art of the possible. They do not believe in seizing opportunities to make steady, messy progress toward conservative goals. They believe that politics is a cataclysmic struggle. They believe that if they can remain pure in their faith then someday their party will win a total and permanent victory over its foes.

Compare this to the following chart by Kevin Drum at the MotherJones website:

To me, all this descriptive evidence makes sense through the lens of political psychology. In the contemporary political world, Republicans are more authoritarian, and thus less prone to seek compromise. We should not be surprised when see this actually play out in the real world.

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