Political Behavior

, Volume 39, Issue 2, pp 457–478 | Cite as

Economic Threats or Societal Turmoil? Understanding Preferences for Authoritarian Political Systems

  • Steven V. Miller
Original Paper


Why do some individuals prefer to be governed in an authoritarian political system? One intuitive answer is that citizens prefer authoritarian rule when the economy and society are in turmoil. These are common explanations for democratic backsliding, and the emergence and success of authoritarian leaders in the twentieth century. Which of these explanations better explains preferences for authoritarian rule? Both types of threat coincide in small samples and high-profile cases, creating inferential problems. I address this by using three waves of World Values Survey data to look at individual-level preferences for different forms of authoritarian government. Using multiple macroeconomic and societal indicators, I find that economic threats, especially increasing income inequality, better explain preferences for authoritarian government. I conclude with implications for understanding the emergence of support for authoritarianism in fledgling democracies.


Economic threats Societal threats Political attitudes Authoritarianism 



The author thanks Damarys Canache, K. Amber Curtis, Kelly Senters, and the three anonymous reviewers and editor at Political Behavior for their comments on previous versions of this manuscript. Replication files are available on the author’s Github account (


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Clemson UniversityClemsonUSA

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