A new study published in Personality and Individual Differences offers evidence that authoritarian beliefs proliferate at both ends of the political spectrum. Moreover, these beliefs can predict the endorsement of disciplinarian policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Right-wing Authoritarianism (RWA) is a well-established construct, describing, “conventionalism (adherence to conventional values), authoritarian submission (placing high value on obedience and respect for authority), and authoritarian aggression (punitive attitudes toward those who deviate from conventional values).” More recently, researchers have explored the concept of Left-wing Authoritarianism (LWA), suggesting the possibility that left- and right-wingers may be more psychologically similar than traditionally believed.
According to study author Joseph H. Manson, the COVID-19 pandemic presents an interesting time to explore the construct of Left-wing Authoritarianism.
“Reacting to the severe public health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in Spring 2020, many citizens of liberal democratic nations have tolerated, or even demanded, actions from their governments that they would view as unacceptably heavy-handed under normal conditions,” Manson notes.
The researcher sought to explore whether support for authoritarian pandemic-related policies would be stronger in those with either left-wing or right-wing authoritarian values.
On April 22, 2020, an online survey questioned 528 US residents between the ages of 18 and 79. Participants completed 18 items from the Authoritarianism-Conservatism-Traditionalism (ACT) Scale (e.g., “Our country will be great if we show respect for authority and obey our leaders (Conservatism)), and 22 items from the Left-Wing Authoritarianism Index (e.g., “Bigots must be taught to shut-up and stay in their place.”).
Respondents then read 19 authoritarian policies related to reducing the spread of the coronavirus and indicated the extent of their support for each policy.
Interestingly, Manson found that both Left-wing and Right-wing Authoritarianism predicted the endorsement of a number of pandemic-related policies that are considered authoritarian. This was true even after controlling for gender, income loss due to social distancing, and three covariates associated with an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 — age, African-American identity, and county COVID-19 rate.
“After controlling for all other predictors,” Manson reports, “both RWA and LWA were significantly positively associated with endorsement of would report to police, need threat of punishment, certificate of immunity, mandatory tracking app, restrict right to protest, ban nonessential items, government-run economy, restrict right to trial by jury, restrictions by executive decree, emergency-enhanced punishment, and mandatory COVID-19 testing.”
As Manson describes, these findings coincide with new research suggesting that both rightists and leftists can uphold authoritarian beliefs and that RWA and LWA share psychological similarities — two of which are “belief in a dangerous world” and “preference for state control.”
“Consistent with these findings, I found that in response to the danger posed by a deadly pandemic, people high in RWA and people high in LWA agreed on the need for enhanced state control in several domains, including restrictions on the right to protest, punishment without the right to trial by jury, and surveillance via a mandatory tracking app,” Manson says.
Despite certain limitations, including a lack of additional assessments for political attitudes, the study demonstrates the potential use of the construct of Left-wing Authoritarianism in political psychology research.
The study, “Right-wing Authoritarianism, Left-wing Authoritarianism, and pandemic mitigation authoritarianism”, was authored by Joseph H. Manson.