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An “Authoritarian Spring?” Authoritarianism and the 2018 Midterm Elections

Anne M. Cizmar and John McTague
From the journal The Forum


This paper examines the role of authoritarianism in the 2018 US congressional elections. In particular, we assess whether the issues that have historically been central to the authoritarian divide in the American electorate were salient in the campaigns of several important Senate races. We demonstrate that authoritarian attitudes played a consistent, significant role on presidential vote choice, party identification, and numerous policy areas in the 2016 presidential election using data from the American National Election Studies. Using case studies of six Senate races in the 2018 midterm elections, we find that authoritarianism was more muted than in 2016, and that the role of authoritarianism varied considerably depending upon the race. States with stronger Trump support in 2016 featured authoritarianism more heavily than states with less Trump support in 2016, but authoritarianism overall was not as prominent in 2018 as in 2016. Overall, Senate candidates relied on traditional campaign messages related to candidate qualifications, personal attacks, the economy, and other messages less central to authoritarianism.


Table A1:

Characteristics of States with Senate Races Chosen for Case Studies.

StateCook RatingCensus RegionTrump VoteElection Type
ArizonaToss-upWest48.67 (26th)Open Seat
FloridaToss-upSouth49.02 (25th)Democratic Incumbent
MissouriToss-upMidwest55.77 (15th)Democratic Incumbent
NevadaToss-upWest45.50 (32nd)Republican Incumbent
OhioLean DemocraticMidwest51.69 (20th)Democratic Incumbent
West VirginiaToss-upSouth68.50 (1st)Democratic Incumbent

  1. State names in bold elected the Republican candidate for Senate in 2018. “Cook Rating” represents the Cook Political Report’s rating of the competitiveness of the race as of Labor Day: “Trump Vote” shows the percentage of the vote Trump won in the state in 2016 with the ranking of the state’s pro-Trump vote in parentheses. The percentage of the Trump vote is in italics if Trump won the state. The only Census region unrepresented is the Northeast, which did not have a Senate race that qualified as a toss-up or a leaner.

Table A2:

The Effect of Authoritarianism on Party Identification and Presidential Vote in 2016.

Party IdentificationaPresidential Vote Choiceb
Authoritarianism0.19*** (0.02)2.1*** (0.20)
Church Attendance0.15*** (0.02)1.07*** (0.15)
Education−0.03 (0.03)−0.71** (0.26)
Income0.13*** (.03)0.44 (0.25)
Age−0.03 (0.03)0.26 (0.23)
Sex−0.06*** (0.01)−0.26* (0.12)
Race0.25*** (0.02)2.4*** (0.21)
West0.07** (0.02)0.23 (0.18)
Midwest0.05* (0.02)0.34 (0.20)
South0.10*** (0.02)0.73*** (0.16)
Constant0.05 (0.04)−3.7*** (0.34)

  1. Source: 2016 American National Election Studies.

  2. All variables in the models range from 0 to 1. Sex is coded 0 for males and 1 for females. Race is coded 0 for non-Whites and 1 for Whites.

  3. aRanges from strong Democrat to strong Republican. Entries are unstandardized regression coefficients, with standard errors in parentheses.

  4. bCoded 1 for Trump voters and 0 for Clinton voters. Entries are logit coefficients, with standard errors in parentheses.

  5. cUnweighted pseudo-R2.

  6. ***p<0.001; **p<0.01; *p<0.05.

Table A3:

The Effect of Authoritarianism on Policy Attitudes in 2016.

Racial IssuesCultural IssuesDefense SpendingSocial Welfare
Authoritarianism0.25*** (0.01)0.19*** (0.01)0.19*** (0.02)0.13*** (0.01)
Church Attendance−0.006 (0.01)0.19*** (0.01)0.09*** (0.01)0.07*** (0.01)
Education−0.11*** (0.02)−0.09*** (0.02)−0.12*** (0.02)0.03 (0.02)
Income0.08** (0.02)−0.04** (0.02)0.05* (0.02)0.14*** (0.02)
Age0.11*** (0.02)0.05** (0.02)0.18*** (0.02)0.08*** (0.02)
Sex−0.03** (0.01)−0.04*** (0.008)0.007 (0.01)−0.05*** (0.01)
Race0.17*** (0.01)0.03** (0.009)0.05*** (0.01)0.12*** (0.01)
West0.009 (0.02)0.03** (0.01)−0.01 (0.02)0.05** (0.01)
Midwest0.03* (0.02)0.04*** (0.01)−0.007 (0.02)0.06*** (0.01)
South0.04** (0.02)0.06*** (0.01)0.02 (0.02)0.05*** (0.01)
Constant0.28*** (0.02)0.15*** (0.02)0.37*** (0.03)0.01*** (0.02)

  1. Source: 2016 American National Election Studies.

  2. All of the dependent variables are coded so that higher values indicate more-conservative (or hawkish or interventionist) positions. The top entries in each cell are unstandardized ordinary least squares coefficients with standard errors in parentheses. All variables in the models range from 0 to 1. Race is coded 0 for non-Whites and 1 for Whites. Sex is coded 0 for males and 1 for females.

  3. ***p<0.001; **p<0.01; *p<0.05.

Table A4:

The Effect of Authoritarianism on Policy Attitudes in 2016.

ImmigrationaDeath PenaltyaForeign Policy Interventionismb
Authoritarianism1.8*** (0.14)1.7*** (0.13)−0.99*** (0.18)
Church Attendance0.18 (0.10)−0.15 (0.12)0.51*** (0.13)
Education−0.59** (0.19)−0.93*** (0.18)1.09*** (0.18)
Income0.04 (0.14)0.37* (0.16)0.20 (0.18)
Age0.89*** (0.16)0.43* (0.19)1.4*** (0.20)
Sex0.03 (0.07)−0.27** (0.08)0.19 (0.10)
Race0.84*** (0.08)0.74*** (0.11)−0.15 (0.12)
West−0.08 (0.12)0.24 (0.12)0.19 (0.16)
Midwest0.22 (0.14)0.23 (0.19)0.20 (0.16)
South0.24* (0.11)0.30** (0.11)0.15 (0.14)
Constant−0.31 (0.24)
Cut Point 1−1.13*** (0.24)−0.40 (0.22)
Cut Point 2−0.02 (0.22)0.36 (0.21)
Cut Point 32.13*** (0.23)1.09*** (0.21)
Cut Point 43.12*** (0.23)

  1. Source: 2016 American National Election Studies.

  2. All of the dependent variables are coded so that higher values indicate more conservative (or more hawkish/interventionist) positions. Race is coded 0 for non-Whites and 1 for Whites. Sex is coded 0 for males and 1 for females.

  3. aOrdered logit coefficients with standard errors in parentheses.

  4. bLogit coefficients with standard errors in parentheses.

  5. ***p<0.001; **p<0.01; *p<0.05.


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Published Online: 2019-02-27
Published in Print: 2018-12-19

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