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In Wake of Abrupt Comey Firing, Attitudes on Authoritarian Leadership

The nation’s capital is still reeling after President Trump’s brusque firing of FBI Director James Comey. While the dismissal was within the president’s power, the abruptness of Comey’s departure was another reminder that the country has a president who isn’t used to sticking to precedent. To better understand how partisans are reacting to this news, we looked at attitudes on authoritarian leadership among the public.

Americans are evenly split over whether the country needs a strong leader who is willing to break the rules in order to bring about needed reforms. Nearly half (49 percent) say things have gotten so far off track that we need a leader who is willing to break some rules if that is what it takes to set things right, while 50 percent disagree.

Republicans (57 percent) are more likely than either political independents (48 percent) or Democrats (41 percent) to believe that America needs a leader willing to break the rules. A majority of Democrats (57 percent) and independents (51 percent) do not think we need a rule-breaking leader.

Authoritarian-style leadership is more attractive to white working-class Americans than to white college-educated Americans. Six in ten (60 percent) white working-class Americans, compared to only 32 percent of white college-educated Americans say we need such a strong leader. Two-thirds (67 percent) of white college-educated Americans disagree.

Individuals who feel as though American culture is being threatened are also more likely to say that the country needs a leader willing to break some rules. Those who agree that the American way of life needs protection from foreign influence are much more likely than those who disagree to say that we need such a leader (59 percent vs. 36 percent, respectively).

For more, read the PRRI/Brookings survey report.