Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Large array of triangulating evidence from 12 studies & over 8,000 participants from the U.S. and over 66,000 participants world-wide strongly suggests that left-wing authoritarianism is much closer to a reality than a myth

Is the myth of left-wing authoritarianism itself a myth? Lucian Gideon Conway III, Alivia Zubrod, Linus Chan, James D. McFarland and Evert Van de Vliert. Front. Psychol., February 8 2023, Volume 13 - 2022.

Abstract: Is left-wing authoritarianism (LWA) closer to a myth or a reality? Twelve studies test the empirical existence and theoretical relevance of LWA. Study 1 reveals that both conservative and liberal Americans identify a large number of left-wing authoritarians in their lives. In Study 2, participants explicitly rate items from a recently-developed LWA measure as valid measurements of authoritarianism. Studies 3–11 show that persons who score high on this same LWA scale possess the traits associated with models of authoritarianism: LWA is positively related to threat sensitivity across multiple areas, including general ecological threats (Study 3), COVID disease threat (Study 4), Belief in a Dangerous World (Study 5), and Trump threat (Study 6). Further, high-LWA persons show more support for restrictive political correctness norms (Study 7), rate African-Americans and Jews more negatively (Studies 8–9), and show more cognitive rigidity (Studies 10 and 11). These effects hold when controlling for political ideology and when looking only within liberals, and further are similar in magnitude to comparable effects for right-wing authoritarianism. Study 12 uses the World Values Survey to provide cross-cultural evidence of Left-Wing Authoritarianism around the globe. Taken in total, this large array of triangulating evidence from 12 studies comprised of over 8,000 participants from the U.S. and over 66,000 participants world-wide strongly suggests that left-wing authoritarianism is much closer to a reality than a myth.

8. General discussion

Is left-wing authoritarianism a viable construct that predicts important real-world phenomena? Across 12 studies spanning over 8,000 participants in the U.S. and over 66,000 participants worldwide, our data consistently reveal the answer is yes. These data reveal that (1) both liberal and conservative American participants identify a large number of left-wing authoritarians in their everyday lives (Study 1), and (2) both liberal and conservative participants rate a common Left-Wing Authoritarianism scale as measuring authoritarianism (Study 2). Further, this same LWA scale (3) consistently predicts key phenomena that major authoritarianism theories suggest it should predict, including (3a) threat sensitivity (Studies 3–6), (3b) restrictive communication norms (Study 7), (3c) negative ratings of minority groups (Studies 8–10), and (3d) dogmatism (Studies 10 and 11). Further, we used multiple methods to help overcome the double-barreled measurement problem inherent in any authoritarianism measurement, including controlling directly for ideology (Studies 3–11) and performing analyses only on liberals (Studies 3–11). Finally, we (4) found evidence of left-wing authoritarianism in an expansive world-wide sample (Study 12). Each of these approaches has offsetting strengths and weaknesses, and yet they all point to the same conclusion: This wide array of triangulating evidence provides consistent support for the idea that left-wing authoritarianism is indeed a widespread everyday reality.

Below, we place this array of evidence into the existing literature on authoritarianism and ideology, discuss limitations of our work, and offer a brief set of concluding thoughts.

8.1. The authoritarianism debate

The present studies have multiple implications for the ongoing debate about the nature of authoritarianism. Nilsson and Jost (2020) have argued that prior evidence based on Conway et al.’s (2018) LWA scale was due to its overlap with liberal ideology, and thus it did not provide empirical evidence of liberal authoritarianism. The issue raised by this critique is important. What do more focused empirical tests – tests based in long-accepted scientific practice – reveal? Our multi-method evidence here suggests that, in fact, the scale is measuring something beyond mere liberalism. Almost all key effects across Studies 3–11 remain when controlling for political ideology. Further, in a similar fashion, almost all key effects remain within-liberals: Thus, when comparing liberal authoritarians to liberal non-authoritarians, high-LWA persons show conceptually-expected correlations. As a result, the scale differentiates one kind of liberal from another kind, and thus cannot be reduced to mere ideology.

This array of evidence overwhelmingly suggests that, contrary to critics’ claims, there is something beyond mere ideology captured by the LWA scale. What is that something beyond? Consistent with a long line of research on RWA, by far the most parsimonious answer to that question is that the something beyond is authoritarianism. And indeed, using standard content validity approaches also used in other authoritarianism work (e.g., Funke, 2005Dunwoody and Funke, 2016), Study 2 showed that participants evaluate the items in Conway’s LWA scale as measurements of authoritarianism. This strong empirical evidence is echoed in the judgments of researchers Fasce and Avendaño (2020, p. 3), who commented that the items on Conway et al.’s LWA scale “are not merely statements of liberal ideology; they univocally reflect an extremely authoritarian attitude, opposed to liberal commitments such as equality among citizens, freedom of expression, and tolerance toward political and cultural diversity.”

Taken together, this array of triangulating evidence points to the conclusion that – as is the case for the scientific consensus on the Altemeyer RWA scale on which it was based – Conway et al.’s LWA scale is a valid measurement of authoritarianism.

8.2. Limitations

Like all studies, the present study has limitations. First, although employing much larger and more diverse samples than most previous work on authoritarianism, Studies 1–11 (like much prior authoritarianism research) are nonetheless limited to the United States and should not be taken to generalize beyond that region.

Further, as other researchers have noted (Nilsson and Jost, 2020), the Conway et al. (2018) scale on which Studies 2–11 are based is not perfect. However, essentially all critiques of individual items on the scale hinge on the argument that these items do not measure anything beyond left-wing ideology.12 As such, all these smaller critiques are best addressed with triangulating empirical evidence that the whole collection of items – used in the way originally intended by the authors of the scale, as a total summative measure – is in fact capturing something beyond mere ideology. Evidence that the whole scale is valid suggests at a minimum that the collection of items as a whole is valid – and thus directly suggests there is no systemic problem with items interfering with the validity of the scale. It is just that kind of whole-scale validity evidence that has been supplied across multiple studies in the present package. This empirical approach mirrors the approach in other domains when critiques arise of the empirical validity of particular theoretical constructs (e.g., Banaji et al., 2004).

However, we acknowledge that Conway et al.’s (2018) LWA scale, like all scales, is not perfect and thus does of course have room for improvement (Conway, 2020). But saying a scale is imperfect is not the same as saying a scale is invalidAll measurements contain imperfections and all studies contain messiness, and yet that should not deter us from bigger-picture research conclusions (Cooper, 2016). Thus, we acknowledge the facts that (a) like virtually every scale, the LWA scale could be improved, and (b) as a scale designed to parallel the most widely-used RWA scale, it inherited some of that scale’s weaknesses. However, this lack of perfection should not be confused with the larger, big-picture issue of the degree that it can be construed as a valid measurement of left-wing authoritarianism. The overwhelming amount of evidence across multiple studies speaks clearly: It can be accurately viewed as a measurement of left-wing authoritarianism.

Adolescents today are just as politically polarized as adults; & they are much more likely to share their parents' political orientation than they were 4 decades ago

Learning to Dislike Your Opponents: Political Socialization in the Era of Polarization. Matthew Tyler, Shanto Iyengar. American Political Science Review, Volume 117, Issue 1, February 2023, online May 4 2022, pp. 347 - 354.

Abstract: Early socialization research dating to the 1960s showed that children could have a partisan identity without expressing polarized evaluations of political leaders and institutions. We provide an update to the socialization literature by showing that adolescents today are just as polarized as adults. We compare our findings to a landmark 1980 socialization study and show that distrust in the opposing party has risen sharply among adolescents. We go on to show that the onset of polarization in childhood is predicted by parental influence; adolescents who share their parents’ identity and whose parents are more polarized are apt to voice polarized views.


We have shown that the onset of partisan polarization occurs early in the life cycle. Today, high levels of in-group favoritism and out-group distrust are in place well before early adulthood. In fact, the absence of age differences in our 2019 results suggests that the learning curve for polarization plateaus by the age of 11. This is very unlike the developmental pattern that held in the 1970s and 1980s, when early childhood was characterized by blanket positivity toward political leaders and partisanship gradually intruded into the political attitudes of adolescents before peaking in adulthood.

When we considered the antecedents of children’s trust in the parties, our findings confirm the earlier literature documenting the primacy of the family as an agent of socialization (Jennings and Niemi Reference Jennings and Niemi1968; Jennings, Stoker, and Bowers Reference Jennings, Stoker and Bowers2009; Tedin Reference Tedin1974). Polarized parents seem to transmit not only their partisanship but also their animus toward opponents. It is striking that the least-polarized youth respondents in 2019 are those who have not adopted their parental partisan loyalty.

In closing, our findings have important implications for the study of political socialization. Fifty years ago, political socialization was thought to play a stabilizing role important to the perpetuation of democratic norms and institutions. In particular, children’s adoption of uncritical attitudes toward political leaders helped to legitimize the entire democratic regime. Indeed, researchers cited this “functional” role of socialization in justifying the study of political attitudes in childhood (Kinder and Sears Reference Kinder, Sears, Lindzey and Aronson1985; van Deth, Abendschön, and Vollmar Reference van Deth, Abendschön and Vollmar2011).

In the current era, it seems questionable whether the early acquisition of out-party animus fosters democratic norms and civic attitudes. Extreme polarization is now associated with rampant misinformation (Peterson and Iyengar Reference Peterson and Iyengar2021) and, as indicated by the events that occurred in the aftermath of the 2020 election, with willingness to reject the outcome of free and fair electoral procedures. The question for future research is how to transmit party attachments, as occurred in the prepolarization era, without the accompanying distrust and disdain for political opponents.