Economic Threats or Societal Turmoil? Understanding Preferences for Authoritarian Political Systems
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.
KeywordsEconomic 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 (github.com/svmiller).
- Adorno, T. W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D., & Sanford, N. (1950). The authoritarian personality. New York, NY: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
- Altemeyer, B. (1988). Enemies of freedom: Understanding right-wing authoritarianism. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
- Banks, A. S. (2013). Cross-National Time-Series Data Archive. Jerusalem: Databanks International. http://www.databanksinternational.com.
- Bermeo, N. (2003). Ordinary people in extraordinary times: The citizenry and the breakdown of democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Center for Systemic Peace. (2014). Global report 2014: Conflict, governance and state fragility.Google Scholar
- Curley, E. (1994). “Introduction to Hobbes’ Leviathan. In C. Edwin (Ed.), Leviathan: With selected variants from the latin edition of 1668. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.Google Scholar
- Fromm, E. (1941). Escape from freedom. New York, NY: Rinehart.Google Scholar
- Hollenbach, F. M., Metternich, N. W., Minhas, S., and Ward, M. D. (2014). Fast & easy imputation of missing social science data. arXiv:org/abs/1411.0647v1.
- Lipset, S. M. (1959). Democracy and working-class authoritarianism. American Sociological Review, 24(4): 482–501.Google Scholar
- Marquez, X. (2016). A quick method for extending the unified democracy scores.Google Scholar
- Miller, Steven V. n.d. Individual-level expectations of executive authority under territorial threat. Conflict Management and Peace Science.Google Scholar
- Samejima, F. (1969). Estimation of latent ability using a response pattern of graded scores (psychometric monograph no. 17). Richmond, VA: Psychometric Society.Google Scholar
- Seligson, M. A., ed. (2008). Challenges to Democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean: Evidence from the AmericasBarometer 2006-07. Vanderbilt University/USAID.Google Scholar
- Solt, F. (2013). The standardized world income inequality database.Google Scholar
- Wrong, D. H. (1994). The problem of order: What unites and divides society. New York, NY: The Free Press.Google Scholar