Two columns ago, I added an endnote requesting that readers allow me to pick their brains for around half an hour. After some interesting sociological and anthropological discussions in my classes at George Washington University, I became curious to conduct some original research.
After the piece and its endnote were published, I got a resounding 11 responses — less than ideal given I was seeking a representative sample for Blount County. To compensate, I reached out to some friends and acquaintances. In the end, I was able to survey 30 Blount Countians.
Each interview consisted of four parts: collecting demographic information and conducting a values questionnaire, policy questionnaire and rhetorical analysis. Twenty-one respondents were Republicans or Republican-leaning independents, eight leaned Democratic, and one identified as a true independent.
My three main takeaways for Blount County? There are proto-fascists everywhere, we agree on a lot more than we think, and policy does influence our vote. I realize that these likely will inspire mixed emotions, so I will try to overcome the most difficult part first.
There are proto-fascists everywhereIn the 1950s, the famous sociologist Theodore Adorno created a psychological questionnaire designed to spot fascists. He called it the F-Scale. Though I did not disclose it to those I surveyed, the values questionnaire was simply the three most defining questions from Adorno’s F-Scale.
Following Adorno’s procedure, I asked contributors to assess their level of agreement with statements like: “If people would talk less and work more, everybody would be better off.” The more they agreed, the higher their score and the more fascist their inclinations were.
The typical American from Adorno’s study had an F-Scale score between 3 and 4.5. Higher than that, and, according to the test, you are considered a proto-fascist.
Of the respondents I interviewed, an alarming 43% scored above 4.5. Only a little over 10% scored below a 3.
In other words, almost half of the Blountians I interviewed were proto-fascists, at least according to the F-Scale (which has its criticisms). However, the “proto” prefix should be especially emphasized here. What the test looks for are values common among racists, homophobes and authoritarians but not exclusive to those groups. So 43% are not necessarily fascists, but they possess a set of values that predisposes them to fascist political thought.
We agree on a lot more than we think
A recent Op-Ed from Maryville’s Buzz Thomas beat me to the punch with this (“Democrats and Republicans want 95% of the same things,” Mar 30), but I will present my findings nonetheless. In short, it confirms much of what Thomas argued.
In the policy questionnaire, I posed questions meant to be more specific than those on values but broad enough to avoid buzzwords. A March Morning Consult poll on the American Rescue Plan found a 6% change in support when those surveyed were told of the plan’s Democratic origins. I hoped to avoid that.
Instead, I asked questions laid out by Pew Research that are considered cornerstones of modern political typology in America. Among these three questions, two found overwhelming agreement.
Some 71% of respondents I surveyed said they considered military strength to be more important than good diplomacy in ensuring peace. Similarly, 83% said most corporations make a fair and reasonable amount of profit rather than too much profit.
The dividing question (with a 50/50 split) concerned whether “the economic system in this country” is “generally fair to most Americans” or “unfairly favors powerful interests.”
Much as Thomas observed in his piece and the University of Maryland researchers he cited noted, most Blount Countians agree on most policy issues (at least in a broad sense).
We really want bipartisanship
The last part of the survey had me presenting excerpts of two candidates seeking the same office in Ohio. Though I kept it anonymous, one was Sharrod Brown (D) and one was Mike DeWine (R) as they were seeking the governor’s office. Even though respondents knew nothing of the candidate’s specific policy proposals, DeWine touted his record of reaching across the aisle in the Senate while Brown boasted standing up to big banks.
Though respondents generally saw both favorably, when asked who they would vote for, 25 of the 30 said DeWine, two insisted they couldn’t choose and only three said Brown. When I asked why, many brought up that DeWine seemed to be a “peacemaker” and cited the need for bipartisanship in government at all levels.
So what to make of all this? It seems to me that, by and large, our hearts are in the same place. Even if our backgrounds and choices of media influence our judgment, it’s prudent to remember that Kamala Harris, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul and “that crazy neighbor” all want what’s best for America. We just go about it in different ways and compromise at different times. As Ed from Maryville put it during our interview, “How you see the show depends on where you sit.”