Election 2014  
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Why Americans Who Love Authority Are More Likely to Vote Republican

Question authority? Obama's your man. Uncomfortable with ambiguity? It's Mitt -- or so says election data.

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Why does this matter? There is a strong tendency in American politics, extending back 30 years or more, to view all white working-class voters as cut from the same cloth – uniformly predisposed to social conservatism and uncomfortable with cultural change. Then Sen. Obama was himself guilty of this sort of reductionism in 2008 when he made comments about bitter working-class voters clinging to their guns and religion. This cohort is said to have been especially uneasy with a biracial president who embodies a complex and changing world. But this isn’t really a problem for white working-class voters as such. Instead, it’s a function of the same broader dynamic that has divided the parties over the past generation and has contributed to such stark political polarization. Our political chasm is defined as much as ever by fundamental personality differences among the parties’ base voters. The white working-class meme, while true to a point – because less-educated whites do tend to be more authority-minded – obscures the deeper realities of our political divide. It’s not socioeconomic status, per se, that explains white voters’ political preferences. It’s personality type. White voters who believe, first and foremost, that children should obey authority don’t dislike Obama simply because they disagree with his policy positions. They reject his entire perceived outlook on the world. Whether they are rich or poor, educated or not, has relatively little effect on that reality. Pundits should have a clearer understanding of this fundamental truth as they take stock of the presidential campaign in its closing weeks.

 

Jonathan Weiler is a Professor of International Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.