Accessible Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter July 28, 2021

The Role of Anti-Establishment Orientations During the Trump Presidency

Adam M. Enders and Joseph E. Uscinski
From the journal The Forum

Abstract

Growing levels of polarization and out-group hostility have become fashionable explanations for the caustic politics of the Trump presidency. However, partisan and ideological identities cannot explain popular attraction to Trump’s anti-elite and populist rhetoric, nor can polarization and sorting account for rising levels of mass identification as political independents. In light of these discrepancies, we offer an explanation for the Trump era unrelated to traditional left-right identities and ideologies: anti-establishment orientations. We argue that much of what is interpreted as an expression of partisan and ideological extremism or polarization is actually the product of a deep-seated antagonism toward the broader political establishment. We first exhibit the individual-level correlates of anti-establishment orientations, finding that people holding strong anti-establishment views exhibit relatively high levels of anti-social personality traits and distrust of others. We then show that anti-establishment orientations are more predictive than left-right orientations of beliefs in conspiracy theories regarding COVID-19, QAnon, and voter fraud. Most importantly, we demonstrate that, while anti-establishment orientations are positively related to support for Donald Trump, they are negatively related to support for Joe Biden and both major parties. In short, the toxicity emblematic of the Trump era—support for outsider candidates, belief in conspiracy theories, corrosive rhetoric, and violence—are derivative of antipathy towards the established political order, rather than a strict adherence to partisan and ideological dogma. We conclude that Trump’s most powerful and unique impact on American electoral politics is his activation, inflammation, and manipulation of preexisting anti-establishment orientations for partisan ends.


Corresponding authors: Adam M. Enders, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY, USA, E-mail: ; and Joseph E. Uscinski, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, USA, E-mail:

Appendix

Question wording

Anti-establishment orientations (each item is 1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree):

  1. Much of our lives are being controlled by plots hatched in secret places.

  2. Even though we live in a democracy, a few people will always run things anyway.

  3. The people who really ‘run’ the country, are not known to the voters.

  4. Big events like wars, the current recession, and the outcomes of elections are controlled by small groups of people who are working in secret against the rest of us.

  5. Politicians always end up agreeing when it comes to protecting their privileges.

  6. Politicians should follow only the will of the people.

  7. The people, not politicians, should make our most important policy decisions.

  8. The political differences between the elite and the people are much larger than the differences among the people.

  9. I would rather be represented by a citizen than a by a profession politician.

  10. Elected officials talk too much and take too little action.

  11. Established politicians who claim to defend our interests only take care of themselves.

  12. The established elite and politicians have often betrayed the people.

  13. Politics is a battle between good and evil.

  14. What people call “compromise” in politics is really just selling out on one’s principles.

Primary source of news. What is your primary source for finding news? (please only select one option)

  1. National or local TV news

  2. Radio

  3. Newspapers

  4. Internet news websites (e.g. CNN.com, FoxNews.com, etc.)

  5. Social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)

  6. Friends/relatives

Spread information online. I share information on social media about politics even though I believe it may be false.

  1. Strongly disagree

  2. Disagree

  3. Neither agree, nor disagree

  4. Agree

  5. Strongly agree

Anomie. Please tell us how much you agree or disagree with each of the statements below (each item is 1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree; α = 0.62, M = 3.56, SD = 0.78):

  1. The situation of the average person is getting worse.

  2. It is hardly fair to bring a child into today’s world.

  3. Most public officials are not interested in the average person.

Social media use. Thinking about the social media you use, how often in a typical week do you visit or use: 1) Facebook, 2) Twitter, 3) Instagram, 4) Reddit, 5) YouTube, 6) 4chan, 8kun

  1. Not at all

  2. Once a month or less

  3. Several times a month

  4. Several times a week

  5. Everyday

Dogmatism. Please tell us how much you agree or disagree with each of the statements below (each item is 1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree; α = 0.60, M = 3.13, SD = 0.83):

  1. On important public issues, I believe you should either be for them or against them and not take a middle course.

  2. It is better to take a stand on an issue even if it’s wrong.

  3. When it comes to the really important questions about religion and philosophy of life, a person must decide them, one way or the other.

Nationalism. Please tell us how much you agree or disagree with each of the statements below (each item is 1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree; α = 0.75, M = 3.05, SD = 0.93):

  1. The United States deserves special treatment.

  2. Not many people seem to fully understand the importance of the United States.

  3. I will never be satisfied until the United States gets the recognition it deserves.

Machiavellianism. Please tell us how much you agree or disagree with each of the statements below (each item is 1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree):

  1. I tend to manipulate others to get my way.

  2. I have used deceit or lied to get my way.

  3. I have used flattery to get my way.

  4. I tend to exploit others towards my own end.

Narcissism. Please tell us how much you agree or disagree with each of the statements below (each item is 1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree):

  1. I tend to want others to admire me.

  2. I tend to want others to pay attention to me.

  3. I tend to seek prestige or status.

  4. I tend to expect special favors from others.

Psychopathy. Please tell us how much you agree or disagree with each of the statements below (each item is 1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree):

  1. I tend to lack remorse.

  2. I tend to be unconcerned with the morality of my actions.

  3. I tend to be callous or insensitive.

  4. I tend to be cynical.

Dark triad (combination of all sociopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism items; α = 0.89, M = 2.20, SD = 0.74).

Argumentation. Please tell us how much you agree or disagree with each of the statements below (each item is 1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree; α = 0.72, range = 1–5, M = 2.86, S = 0.98): Please tell us how much you agree or disagree with each of the statements below:

  1. I like to argue online with other people.

  2. I enjoy a good argument over a controversial issue.

  3. I am willing to express my opinion online even if others strongly disagree with me.

Trust. Here are some ideas that some people agree with, and others disagree with. In thinking about each one, please tell us how much you agree or disagree with each of the statements below (each item is 1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree):

  1. I trust the police

  2. I trust my neighbors

  3. I trust my relatives

Feeling thermometers. Please rate name listed below using the “feeling thermometer” slider bars. Ratings between 50 and 100° mean that you feel favorable toward the name. Ratings between 0 and 50° mean that you do not feel favorable toward the name.

  1. Democratic Party

  2. Republican Party

  3. Donald Trump

  4. Joe Biden

Partisan Identity. Combination of two questions about partisan attachment and strength of attachment.

  1. Strong Democrat

  2. Weak Democrat

  3. Lean Democrat

  4. Independent

  5. Lean Republican

  6. Weak Republican

  7. Strong Republican

Ideological Identity. Where would you place yourself on a scale that goes from “very liberal” to “very conservative”?

  1. Very liberal

  2. Liberal

  3. Slightly liberal

  4. Moderate

  5. Slightly conservative

  6. Conservative

  7. Very conservative

Interest in politics. Some people follow what’s going on in politics and current events most of the time. Others aren’t that interested. How often do you follow what’s going on in government and current events?

  1. Never

  2. Hardly at all

  3. Only now and then

  4. Some of the time

  5. Most of the time

Sociodemographics:

  1. Educational attainment (six-point scale, 1 = No high school degree, 5 = post-grad degree)

  2. Religiosity (five-point scale about religious service attendance; 1 = never, 5 = every day)

  3. Age (age in years, 18–90)

  4. Household income (seven-point scale, 1 = $24,999 or less, 7 = 200,000 or more)

  5. Gender (0 = male, 1 = female)

  6. Race (Black: 0 = not Black, 1 = Black; Hispanic: 0 = not Hispanic, 1 = Hispanic)

Sample composition

Table A1:

Sociodemographic information about October 2020 sample, compared to 2010 U.S. census estimates.

CharacteristicOctober 20202010 census estimate
Age (median)4338
High school degree (%)9788
Some college or more (%)7659
Female (%)5151
Household income (median)$25,000–$49,999$49,445
Race:
White (%)6872
Black (%)1413
Hispanic (%)1716
n2015

Factor analysis results

Table A2:

Exploratory factor analysis of left-right and anti-establishment items.

Factor 1Factor 2
Left-right dimension
1. Partisan identities0.0090.941
2. Ideological identities0.0180.763
3. Feelings toward Democratic Party−0.100−0.761
4. Feelings toward Republican Party−0.0480.780
Anti-establishment dimension
1. Even though we live in a democracy, a few people will always run things anyway. (Con)0.508−0.046
2. The people who really “run” the country, are not known to the voters. (Con)0.5470.027
3. Big events like wars, the recent recession, and the outcomes of elections are controlled by small groups of people who are working in secret against the rest of us. (Con)0.5200.095
4. Much of our lives are being controlled by plots hatched in secret places. (Con)0.5380.084
5. Politicians always end up agreeing when it comes to protecting their privileges. (Pop)0.5480.002
6. Politicians should follow only the will of the people. (Pop)0.466−0.020
7. The people, not politicians, should make our most important policy decisions. (Pop)0.486−0.073
8. The political differences between the elite and the people are much larger than the differences among the people. (Pop)0.542−0.049
9. I would rather be represented by a citizen than a by a profession politician. (Pop)0.5590.084
10. Elected officials talk too much and take too little action. (Pop)0.583−0.006
11. Established politicians who claim to defend our interests only take care of themselves. (Pop)0.7090.023
12. The established elite and politicians have often betrayed the people. (Pop)0.6470.001
13. Politics is a battle between good and evil. (Man)0.3360.135
14. What people call “compromise” in politics is really just selling out on one’s principles. (Man)0.5810.137
Eigenvalue4.5112.777
Proportion shared variance accounted for0.4070.250

  1. Solution estimated using iterated principal axis factoring with a varimax (orthogonal) rotation. n = 1947. Bold values are those greater than 0.30 in absolute value.

Full regression results

Table A3:

OLS regressions of QAnon-related conspiracy beliefs on anti-establishment and left-right orientations, with controls.

Believe in QAnonSatan worshippersDT battle deepstate
Anti-establishment1.261c2.207c2.175c
(0.140)(0.142)(0.160)
Left-right0.780c0.692c1.993c
(0.081)(0.083)(0.093)
Religiosity0.252c0.326c0.359c
(0.076)(0.077)(0.086)
Interest in politics−0.148−0.368c−0.099
(0.098)(0.100)(0.112)
Education0.032−0.052−0.126
(0.085)(0.086)(0.097)
Age−1.175c−1.371c−0.182
(0.109)(0.110)(0.124)
Female0.0510.177c0.022
(0.048)(0.048)(0.054)
White0.135a−0.072−0.151a
(0.068)(0.069)(0.077)
Black0.1630.226b0.168
(0.086)(0.087)(0.098)
Latinx0.0240.046−0.186a
(0.070)(0.071)(0.080)
Constant1.300c1.060c0.778c
(0.146)(0.148)(0.166)
R20.1580.2560.289
n194419451946

  1. OLS coefficients with standard errors in parentheses. ap < 0.05, bp < 0.01, cp < 0.001.

Table A4:

OLS regressions of COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs on anti-establishment and left-right orientations, with controls.

Group infected DTDT faking COVIDDT coverup COVID
Anti-establishment1.195c1.487c0.705c
(0.156)(0.171)(0.163)
Left-right1.332c−1.607c−2.741c
(0.091)(0.099)(0.095)
Religiosity0.425c−0.025−0.082
(0.085)(0.093)(0.088)
Interest in politics−0.314b−0.515c−0.312b
(0.109)(0.120)(0.114)
Education0.069−0.0170.195a
(0.095)(0.104)(0.099)
Age−1.034c−0.702c−0.275a
(0.121)(0.133)(0.127)
Female0.0470.0840.107
(0.053)(0.058)(0.055)
White0.013−0.175a−0.081
(0.075)(0.083)(0.079)
Black0.0210.432c0.046
(0.096)(0.105)(0.100)
Latinx−0.0490.1450.081
(0.078)(0.086)(0.082)
Constant1.043c2.987c4.339c
(0.162)(0.178)(0.170)
R20.1890.2610.366
n194719461947

  1. OLS coefficients with standard errors in parentheses. ap < 0.05, bp < 0.01, cp < 0.001.

Table A5:

OLS regressions of electoral fraud beliefs on anti-establishment and left-right orientations, with controls.

General voter fraudPost officeMail-in ballotsDT won’t leave officeDT cancel election
Anti-establishment2.201c1.811c1.959c0.588c0.874c
(0.165)(0.157)(0.160)(0.159)(0.153)
Left-right0.396c−0.995c2.416c−2.056c−0.101
(0.096)(0.091)(0.093)(0.092)(0.089)
Religiosity0.1280.1630.333c−0.0860.486c
(0.089)(0.085)(0.087)(0.086)(0.083)
Interest in politics0.363b0.188−0.1400.021−0.396c
(0.115)(0.110)(0.112)(0.111)(0.107)
Education0.075−0.140−0.108−0.0050.284b
(0.100)(0.095)(0.097)(0.096)(0.093)
Age−0.720c−0.377b−1.169c0.159−1.372c
(0.128)(0.122)(0.124)(0.123)(0.119)
Female0.239c0.139b−0.0430.185c0.023
(0.056)(0.053)(0.054)(0.054)(0.052)
White−0.036−0.092−0.021−0.028−0.074
(0.080)(0.076)(0.077)(0.077)(0.074)
Black0.1630.0880.305b−0.0830.068
(0.101)(0.097)(0.098)(0.098)(0.094)
Latinx0.0420.0260.0280.0780.111
(0.083)(0.079)(0.080)(0.080)(0.077)
Constant1.428c2.461c1.256c3.756c1.916c
(0.171)(0.163)(0.166)(0.165)(0.159)
R20.1240.1500.3610.2450.150
n19471947194719471947

  1. OLS coefficients with standard errors in parentheses. ap < 0.05, bp < 0.01, cp < 0.001.

Table A6:

OLS regressions of feelings toward parties and candidates on anti-establishment and left-right orientations, with controls.

TrumpBidenRep PartyDem Party
Anti-establishment10.891c−21.120c−12.816c−22.759c
(3.301)(3.348)(2.933)(2.993)
Left-right106.940c−98.462c96.252c−95.922c
(1.914)(1.947)(1.702)(1.737)
Religiosity9.265c10.355c10.847c10.279c
(1.784)(1.815)(1.587)(1.620)
Interest in politics9.827c11.230c10.427c8.817c
(2.331)(2.368)(2.054)(2.096)
Education0.5846.990c0.7126.020c
(2.001)(2.034)(1.777)(1.814)
Age0.8988.491b1.4113.491
(2.563)(2.606)(2.278)(2.325)
Female−3.200b−1.105−1.780−0.277
(1.122)(1.139)(0.996)(1.017)
White2.450−2.1040.018−2.239
(1.599)(1.621)(1.417)(1.446)
Black−2.9882.472−1.4841.160
(2.043)(2.058)(1.801)(1.838)
Latinx−4.102a−0.195−2.613−0.720
(1.658)(1.685)(1.471)(1.501)
Constant−29.124c93.037c−7.552a95.378c
(3.438)(3.498)(3.047)(3.110)
R20.6780.6180.6780.655
n1931193119471947

  1. OLS coefficients with standard errors in parentheses. ap < 0.05, bp < 0.01, cp < 0.001.

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Published Online: 2021-07-28

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