Why People Support Far-Right Political Views
Social dominance orientation and right-wing authoritarianism are examined.
Posted Nov 06, 2019
Social dominance orientation refers to a preference for social inequality (of course, one in which one’s group is superior to others).1Right-wing authoritarianism refers to a combination of three characteristics: Submitting to authorities unquestioningly, adherence to conventional norms and morals, and aggressiveness toward individuals or groups considered outgroups or deviants.2
In an article published in the September/October 2019 issue of Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, Van Assche and colleagues suggest that social dominance orientation and right-wing authoritarianism can explain American and British exceptionalism.
Studies of social dominance and authoritarianism
Let us briefly review the three studies that Van Assche et al. conducted:3
The first investigation was a meta-analysis of 20 studies and over 15,000 participants.
Results showed a strong and positive relation between far-right support and the following: prejudice, social dominance orientation, and right-wing authoritarianism. This relationship was true in samples from the U.S. and Europe. (The mean uncorrected effect size r varied between 0.4 and 0.5.) While geography did make a difference—for instance, the association between social dominance and far-right support was stronger among the Americans than among the British—none of these differences was large or statistically significant.
Data for the second investigation was collected both before and after the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. The participants (160 pre-election; 250 post-election) were mostly American citizens of White/European ethnicity.
Four assessment tasks that measured prejudice, social dominance, right-wing authoritarianism, and far-right support are listed below (see sample items in quotes).
- Prejudice: “Discrimination against blacks is no longer a problem in the United States.”
- Social dominance orientation: “An ideal society requires some groups to be on top and others to be on the bottom.”
- Right-wing authoritarianism: “Obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues children should learn.”
- Far-right support: Depending on the sample (prior- vs. post-election), participants were asked if they were planning to vote for—or currently supported—the “program and/or ideas of Donald Trump.”3
Results of this two-part investigation not only confirmed the findings of Study 1 but also indicated that right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance orientation have a strong relation with prejudice—and, in turn, with voting and support for Donald Trump.
This longitudinal investigation tested and extended previous findings. The sample consisted of non-immigrant English citizens three months prior to the Brexit referendum in 2016 (Time 1), weeks after it (Time 2), and six months later (Time 3). Of the 600 participants at Time 1, about 430 participated at Time 2, and 340 at Time 3.
Measures used were similar to ones from the previous study, except that far-right support was assessed using a question about support for the UK Independence Party.
Results showed, among other things, that right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance were linked with more prejudice longitudinally, and prejudice was linked with support for Brexit. Moreover, support for Brexit and the UK Independence Party was associated, over time, with higher prejudice and right-wing authoritarianism.
These findings suggest that support and voting intentions are entrenched in people’s beliefs and attitudes toward ethnicities. Specifically, the reason people high on right-wing authoritarianism vote for Trump and the UK Independence Party may be that they believe these politicians “can protect law and order and defend traditional norms and values.”3 And the reason individuals high on social dominance orientation do the same is that they like to preserve their status and socioeconomic dominance.
The results also suggest that support for far‐right parties is associated with greater prejudice and right‐wing views over time. The authors speculate the presence of a reinforcing mechanism: People supporting and upholding prejudiced and right‐wing views become more supportive of the far right, too, and at the same time right‐wing voters become gradually more bigoted and intolerant.
“In effect, right‐wing victories reinforce right‐wingers’ views,” a finding “consistent with evidence that racist norms and incidents increased after Marie Le Pen's 2012 race and Trump's 2016 victory.” Polarization may also occur, as it did following the Brexit referendum, where both proponents and opponents actively sought “news confirming their own views, while minimalizing and even ignoring contradictory information. This phenomenon has also been observed after the victory of Trump; reports conflicting with the Trump worldview are typically rejected as ‘fake news.’”3
Van Assche and colleagues conclude that far-right European voters share much in common with Trump supporters.
The key grievances of the far right in Europe “arise from threats to traditional norms and values, economic changes, and immigration—with immigration the most intense issue.” Their predictors (prejudice, social dominance orientation, and right-wing authoritarianism) show similar associations with support for the far right. This is true in the US and Europe, and not only in present research but also in previous investigations. Given these similarities, we may wonder, "Just how different are the nationalistic and populist adherents of Trump and Farage's [UK Independence Party] from those supporting Le Pen's National Front in France, Wilder's Freedom Party in the Netherlands, or Meuthen's Alternative for Germany?”3
* Link to the license for the photo of Nigel Farage.
1. Pratto, F., Sidanius, J., Stallworth, L. M., & Malle, B. F. (1994) Social dominance orientation: a personality variable predicting social and political attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 741–763.
2. Altemeyer, B. (1981). Right-wing authoritarianism. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.
3. Van Assche, J., Dhont, K., & Pettigrew, T. F. (2019). The social‐psychological bases of far‐right support in Europe and the United States. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 29(5), 385-401.