New research provides evidence that left-wing authoritarian attitudes exist in the United States. The preliminary findings, published in the scientific journal Political Psychology, suggest liberals could be just as likely to be authoritarians as conservatives.
“Political ideology in general is one of the most important and predictive variables in human psychology,” said study author Lucian Gideon Conway, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Montana.
“I became interested in left-wing authoritarianism in particular because some people have said it isn’t a very real or likely phenomenon — and yet I know people I would describe as left-wing authoritarians. So I was curious to figure that out.”
Conway and his colleagues developed a measure of left-wing authoritarianism, which was adapted from the right-wing authoritarianism scale developed by psychologist Bob Altemeyer.
The RWA scale asks participants how much they agree with statements such as: “It’s always better to trust the judgment of the proper authorities in government and religion than to listen to the noisy rabble-rousers in our society who are trying to create doubts in people’s minds” and “Our country desperately needs a mighty leader who will do what has to be done to destroy the radical new ways and sinfulness that are ruining us.”
The new LWA scale, on the other hand, asks questions such as: “It’s always better to trust the judgment of the proper authorities in science with respect to issues like global warming and evolution than to listen to the noisy rabble-rousers in our society who are trying to create doubts in people’s minds” and “Our country desperately needs a mighty leader who will do what has to be done to destroy the radical new ways and sinfulness that are ruining us.”
Both scales were tested on a group of 475 undergraduates at the University of Montana and a group of 305 U.S. adults who were recruited online from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.
The researchers found that left-wing authoritarianism was associated with liberal views, dogmatism, and prejudice among both samples of participants, suggesting it is a valid concept.
“Our data suggest that average Americans on the political left are just as likely to be dogmatic authoritarians as those on the political right. And those left-wing authoritarians can be just as prejudiced, dogmatic, and extremist as right-wing authoritarians,” Conway told PsyPost.
However, the research does have some limitations.
“Our two studies should be viewed as just an opening foray in what we hope to be a lot more research on the topic,” Conway explained. “We aren’t claiming definitively that left-wingers are just as likely as right-wingers to be authoritarian in all (or even most) contexts, or that left-wing authoritarians are just the same as right-wing authoritarians in every regard (in fact, I’m pretty sure they aren’t, and we’re doing some work on that).”
“There are good reasons to think authoritarianism aligns more with right-wing than left-wing ideology, and we are interested in those reasons, too. The point is, it is a further question to better define the similarities and differences in right-wing and left-wing authoritarianism.”
“Also, our data only cover a few topic areas that are relevant, and only very specific samples (college undergraduates, MTurk workers) of Americans. Thus, we certainly don’t claim these data to be all inclusive for all people at all times — but every search has to start somewhere, however small.”
“I would like to encourage anyone interested in this topic to get involved — there are a lot of proverbial low-hanging fruit and we have already developed and published a viable LWA questionnaire for people to use,” Conway added. “It’s an exciting area to be involved in!”
The study, “Finding the Loch Ness Monster: Left-Wing Authoritarianism in the United States“, was co-authored by Shannon C. Houck, Laura Janelle Gornick and Meredith A. Repke.