As CNN’s Christiane Amanpour again compares Trump to Hitler on the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, a new a piece of research is being touted by major media outlets: “US Republicans are starting to look a lot like authoritarian parties in Hungary and Turkey, study finds”, headlines CNN. “GOP leaders’ embrace of Trump’s refusal to concede fits pattern of rising authoritarianism, study shows”, says The Washington Post. “The Republican Party has lurched towards populism and illiberalism”, according to Economist, which provides this helpful chart:
So while Democrats have become just a tad more populist in the past four decades, Republican are going off the charts in both the populist and illiberal direction. The graph from the WaPo is simpler but likewise quite stark:
Experts from the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden said the US Republican Party had become more illiberal and populist in recent decades and that its recent retreat from democratic norms has left it resembling authoritarian ruling parties like Hungary’s Fidesz and Turkey’s AKP.
“What we see is that the disrespect of political opponents, the encouragement of violence and also the violation of minority rights … they have all clearly increased with the Republican Party in recent years, since [President Donald Trump] came in the leadership but also before that,” Anna Luehrmann, V-Dem’s deputy director and one of the lead authors of the study, told CNN…
The study, the largest of its kind, looked at the shifts in the identity of political parties across 169 countries between 1970 and 2019, based on the assessments of 665 experts who considered 30 detailed indicators in their research.
Just in case you were tempted to think that social science is a real science, here’s the study’s methodology: asking experts their opinion. In other words, this is not a “study” or a “piece of research”, it’s an opinion poll, and just as credible as the pre-election opinion polls have been. Well, actually much less.
Because while 665 is the total number of experts worldwide, the data for each country is provided by… somewhere around 4-5 political science experts. So all the conclusions about Republicans becoming increasingly authoritarian, illiberal and populist (while Democrats stay consistently nice and cuddly) is a subjective opinion of less than half a dozen American academics.
We don’t know their names, as V-Dem does not identify their experts, so we can only draw some inferences from what we know about political scientists in America.
We know, for example, that around 60 per cent of professors at liberal arts colleges are registered Democrats or Republicans – and that for every one registered as a Republican in Political Science there are 8.2 registered Democrats (as you can see, Political Science is actually one of the “better” balanced disciplines):
(Similar study here.)
We also know that around 20 per cent of academics donate to political parties (like the party registration, a higher rate than the general population, demonstrating a greater interest in politics) , and while we don’t have the data for Political Science academics specifically, the graph below will give you some idea – even in Economics, there are 17 donors to Democrats for every one to Republicans:
Overall, for every dollar that goes to the Republican Party, academics donate $21 to Democrats. This one of the most lopsided ratios in the nation, similar only to (surprise surprise) the tech industry.
So while we don’t know who the handful of American experts are who have put Republicans next to Turkish Islamists*, but based on the data above we can have a reasonably good idea.
This is garbage science – with the mainstream media megaphone. Because it fits the narrative.
* The authoritarian tendencies of Turkey’s ruling AKP are widely recognised and have been correctly reflected by the Turkish experts in the V-Dem study; it’s the American “experts” who, by scoring Republicans in a similar way, demonstrate they have no clue. Just one tiny example: Turkey still imprisons around 120 journalists for political reasons, versus 0 in the United States.