As the shock wears off after high-profile killings by and of police officers, some are asking whether they have shaken Americans to the point where they’re more likely to support a strong-man leader such as Donald Trump. Pacific Standard magazine asked political scientists and social psychologists, who offered a rough consensus. They argue that, while an increased atmosphere of threat may intensify support for Trump among those who already back him, it’s unlikely to expand his appeal.
The professed “law and order” candidate may benefit if an increasing number of Americans view the social fabric as tearing. Fear is the atmosphere in which authoritarian figures thrive. “There is a fair amount of evidence suggesting that threat leads to greater support for authoritarian and charismatic leaders,” says Matt Motyl, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Illinois Chicago. “Some early experimental research that has not yet been peer-reviewed replicates that finding, showing that reminding people of death and terror leads to greater support for Trump.” Jesse Graham, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, agrees: “Decades of studies have shown strong links between perceptions of threat and authoritarianism. And several studies have experimentally manipulated threat and shown this to cause changes in leader preferences.”