International Journal of Public Opinion Research Vol. 0No. 0 2019
ßThe Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The World
Association for Public Opinion Research. All rights reserved.
Right-Wing Authoritarianism and National
Identification: The Role of Democratic Context
, James H. Liu
Homero Gil de Zu´n
Faculty of Education and Social Sciences, Universidad Andres Bello, Santiago, Chile;
Department of Psychology, New York University, New York, USA;
School of Psychology, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand;
Department of Communication, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria;
Facultad de Comunicacio
´n y Letras, Universidad Diego Portales, Chile
Based on social identity theory and the dual process model of social attitudes, we
argue that individuals high in right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) are motivated to
identify with their national in-group. In addition, considering that national identities
are shaped by political and historical factors, we propose that authoritarian individuals
will identify more with their national in-group in countries with less respect for civil
liberties. We tested our predictions through multilevel models using a cross-cultural
sample of 19 countries (n¼17,150). We found support for our theoretical arguments,
such that RWA predicted national identification and that association was stronger
among countries with less respect for civil liberties. These results highlight the im-
portance of historical and political factors in the study of national identification and its
association with socio-political attitudes.
According to social identity theory (Tajfel, 1979; Turner, Brown, & Tajfel, 1979),
national identification can be understood as the individual and collective self-concept
defined in reference to national memberships (Staerkle, Sidanius, Green, & Molina,
2010). Accordingly, different nations and cultures will emphasize different values and
concepts that in turn will influence the specific content of each national identity.
Indeed, studies have shown that different cultures emphasize in different degrees
the importance of national identification (Peetz & Wilson, 2013), and/or promote
All correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Salvador Vargas-Salfate, Ferna
Concha 700, Las Condes, Santiago, Chile. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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different values among their citizens (Becker et al., 2017). But the most compelling
evidence is provided by research studying the association between national identifi-
cation and prejudice toward outgroup members. Studies have not found a consistent
pattern in this association (for a review see Kende, Hadarics, & Szabo
has been attributed to collective and individual differences in the construction of
national identity (e.g., Kunovich, 2009; Pehrson, Brown, & Zagefka, 2009; Pehrson
& Green, 2010; Pehrson, Vignoles, & Brown, 2009).
At the individual level, for instance, Pehrson and colleagues (Pehrson, Brown,
et al., 2009; Pehrson, Vignoles, et al., 2009) have shown that conceiving national
identification in nonessentialist terms (i.e., based on citizenship) significantly weakens
the association between national identification and prejudice toward immigrants.
At the collective level, on the other hand, less systematic research has been conducted.
Studies have shown that the association between national identification and prejudice
is stronger in highly economically developed countries (Pehrson, Vignoles, et al.,
2009), that cultural globalization favors a civic (over ethnic) definition of national
identity (Kunovich, 2009), and that in states ideologically promoting social equality,
national attachment is negatively related to racism (Sawyer, Pena, & Sidanius, 2004).
Based on these studies, in this article, we explore the association between national
identification and right-wing authoritarianism (RWA, Altemeyer, 1998) across cul-
tures. RWA is an attitudinal syndrome that has been shown to be one of the most
widely influential sources of prejudice at the individual level in psychology, today
(Duckitt, 2001). Not only is it widely predictive of many specific prejudices, we also
have reason to believe that the relationship between these two variables might be
moderated by country-level characteristics associated with quality of democracy.
RWA, National Identity, and Democracy
RWA has been defined as a set of personality attributes characterized by authoritarian
submission, conventionalism, and authoritarian aggression (Altemeyer, 1998).
Following Altemeyer (1998), right wing authoritarians are considered to be natural
nationalists, as they want to submit themselves to a powerful national leader, follow
the norms and traditions of the national in-group, and punish anyone who deviates
More recently, Duckitt and colleagues (Duckitt & Sibley, 2009,2010; Sibley &
Duckitt, 2008) have proposed that RWA is more precisely a sociopolitical attitude that
is highly influenced by both situational factors like a threatening social context, and
personality factors such as low openness to experience and high conscientiousness.
Under conditions of high danger or threat, individuals are more likely to adopt au-
thoritarian sociopolitical attitudes. Thus, RWA can provide a sense of security against
either internal or external threats toward the ingroup (Carvacho et al., 2013), espe-
cially when the world is perceived as a dangerous place (Duckitt & Sibley, 2009).
Individuals high in RWA will be motivated to identify with their national ingroup
based on the personality traits underlying this construct. In that sense, Sibley and
Duckitt (2008) showed that low openness to experience predicts prejudice through
RWA. These authors argued that this finding was a result of the high sensitivity to
threats among individuals low in openness to experience. Given that perception of
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PUBLIC OPINION RESEARCH2
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outgroup threat is associated with ingroup identification and ingroup bias
(Branscombe, Ellemers, Spears, & Doosje, 1999; Correl & Park, 2005; Scheepers,
Spears, Doosje, & Manstead, 2006), we can expect that authoritarian individuals
will also express higher national identification (for a similar argument, see
Given that national identities are likely to vary according to contextual factors (e.g.,
Kunovich, 2009; Pehrson, Vignoles, et al., 2009; Sawyer, Pena, & Sidanius, 2004), not
all these identities will be equally appealing for authoritarian individuals. Here, we
propose that RWA will be more strongly associated with national identification in
those countries with a lower quality of democracy, particularly with respect to insti-
tutional features related to punishment of individuals who deviate from social norms.
In these countries, national institutions will likely be more aggressive toward social
deviants, which in turn would provide a higher sense of security among authoritarian
individuals, and thus feed their sense of national identification.
The concept quality of democracy has been extensively studied within political
science (e.g., Mazzuca, 2010; Morlino, 2009) and refers to the extent to which a
political system matches a normative definition of democracy. Although the literature
has provided different theorizations (for a review, see Munck, 2016), most operatio-
nalizations include diverse elements such as political equality, rule of law, etc.
Included among these is civil liberties, broadly conceived as the respect for human
rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, or association. Normatively, a democratic
system should respect these political and civil rights in order to be labeled as a high-
quality democracy. We argue that countries with low respect for civil liberties and
rights will be a more appealing source of identification among right-wing authoritar-
ians because these individuals have a strong preference for punishment of deviants
(Altemeyer, 1998,2004), regardless of whether this punishment constitutes a violation
of civil rights.
The Present Research
Based on the above discussion, in this article, we test if RWA predicts national
identification and if this association is moderated by quality of democracy. We use
a cross-cultural representative sample from 19 countries/societies. In addition, we
included several theoretical covariates in order to provide robust evidence for our
hypotheses. We adjusted for social status because previous studies have shown that
social status is associated with RWA (e.g., Vargas-Salfate, Paez, Liu, Pratto, & Gil de
˜iga, 2018), and national identities are hierarchically constructed such that indi-
viduals belonging to high social status groups are more likely to be perceived as
members of the national ingroup (e.g., Carter & Perez, 2016; Devos & Mohamed,
2014). In addition, we controlled for social dominance orientation (SDO; Sidanius &
Pratto, 1999,2004), which is understood as a preference for group-based dominance.
According to Duckitt and Sibley (2009,2010), SDO is also an antecedent of prejudice
(for a critical view, see Pehrson, Carvacho, & Sibley, 2017) and is weakly or moder-
ately associated with RWA depending on the sociopolitical context (Duriez, Van Hiel,
& Kossowska, 2005; Mirisola, Sibley, Boca, & Duckitt, 2007). In this article, we focus
on RWA and not SDO for two reasons. First, the literature suggests that RWA has an
RESEARCH NOTE 3
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element of submission to authority that connects it theoretically to national identity in
a more consistent way than SDO. Second, our cross-cultural analyses focus on the
moderating role of quality of democracy in its effect on national identification.
Although previous studies have shown that SDO might be also affected by percep-
tions of threats, the strongest effects of the impact of dangers to the collective have
been found when treating RWA as the dependent variable (Cohrs & Asbrock, 2009).
Indeed, Duckitt and colleagues (Duckitt, 2006; Duckitt & Sibley, 2009,2010) have
proposed that the main contextual factor causally associated with SDO is inequality
and competition. Thus, the quality of democracy, and particularly respect for civil
liberties, is not likely to be a moderator in the association between SDO and national
identification as it is for our focal research on RWA.
This study was conducted as part of the Digital Influence Project that carried out a
survey during 2015 in 22 countries (Gil de Zu´n
˜iga & Liu, 2017). We selected data
from 19 countries, those with representative samples and available information for the
country-level democracy measures. After excluding those cases without complete data
for the measures used in this study and individuals born in a foreign country, we
obtained a sample size of 17,150 participants (52.4% female; M
14.70) from Argentina (n¼983), Brazil (n¼949), China (n¼922), Estonia
(n¼1,079), Germany (n¼904), Indonesia (n¼973), Italy (n¼936), Japan
(n¼865), South Korea (n¼859), New Zealand (n¼786), Philippines (n¼912),
Poland (n¼945), Russia (n¼725), Spain (n¼848), Taiwan (n¼866), Turkey
(n¼808), the United Kingdom (n¼891), Ukraine (n¼910), and the United States
National identification. Participants completed a modified version of the
National Identification Scale (Huddy & Khatib, 2007;¼.92) containing four
items (e.g., I identify with my nationality), which ranged from 1(disagree completely)
to 7(agree completely).
Right-wing authoritarianism. We used a brief version of the RWA Scale
(Altemeyer, 1998;¼.68), which contained three items: Obedience and respect for
authority are the most important virtues children should learn;Our country needs a power-
ful leader, in order to destroy the radical and immoral elements in society today; and
In these troubled times, laws have to be enforced without mercy, especially when dealing
with the agitators and revolutionaries who are ‘‘stirring things up.’’ All these items were
measured on a scale ranging from 1(disagree completely)to7(agree completely).
Social dominance orientation. Participants completed a brief version of the
SDO Scale (Pratto et al., 2013;¼.63) containing four items: In setting priorities, we
must consider all groups (Reversed),We should not push for group equality,Group
equality should be our ideal (Reversed), and Superior groups should dominate inferior
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PUBLIC OPINION RESEARCH4
groups. All these items were measured on a scale ranging from 1(strongly oppose)to7
Civil liberties. At the country-level, we included a measure of civil liberties
obtained from The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index for 2015 (The
Economist, 2016). This dimension was computed using 18 country-level indexes:
existence of free electronic media; existence of free print media; freedom of expression
and protest; robust media coverage; political restrictions on access to the Internet;
freedom to form professional organizations and trade unions; opportunities to make
petitions to the government; use of torture by the state; degree to which the judiciary
is independent of government influence; degree of religious tolerance and freedom of
religious expression; equality under the law; general basic security for citizens; pro-
tection for private property rights; respect for personal freedoms; popular perceptions
of protection of human rights; lack of discrimination based on race, color, or religious
beliefs; degree to which the government uses risk and threats to justify the restriction
on civil liberties; and percentage of people who think that human rights are respected
in their country. Almost all of these indexes were rated by a group of experts and
analysts from The Economist, with the exception of one index that is based on the
World Values Survey (i.e., percentage of people who think that human rights are
respected in their country). These indexes were combined and transformed into a
scale ranging from 0to 10, with higher scores indicating higher respect for civil
Control variables. We included subjective social status (1–10), age, and
gender (1female,0male) as individual-level covariates in the analyses.
Descriptive statistics and correlations matrix are shown in Table 1. At the individual
level, national identification was significantly and positively associated with RWA, age,
social status, and gender—with female participants scoring higher than male partici-
pants—and significantly and negatively correlated with SDO. In addition, RWA was
Descriptive Statistics and Correlations Matrix
MSD 123 456
1. National Identification 5.11 1.51 1
2. RWA 4.66 1.37 .38 1
3.SDO 3.01 1.01 –.03 .07 1
4. Age 40.96 14.7.18 .04 .00 1
5. Social Status 5.28 1.81 .08 .05 .01 .00 1
6. Gender .02.00 –.08 –.09 .01 1
RESEARCH NOTE 5
positively associated with age and social status but not with gender. Interestingly,
SDO was weakly related to RWA, and was not associated with social status or age.
Given that we observed low reliabilities for the scales included in this study, we
tested the factor structure of our measurement model using confirmatory factor ana-
lyses through the package lavaan (Rosseel, 2012) for R (R Core Team, 2013). When
we assumed that a single latent variable explained the variance on the observed
measures belonging to RWA, SDO, and national identification, we obtained a poor
goodness of fit,
(44)¼18003.10,p<.001, CFI ¼.750, TLI ¼.698, RMSEA ¼
.154. Although all the factor loadings were significant, those for the reverse items
from SDO were negative. When we specified a three-factor structure, we obtained an
appropriate goodness of fit,
(41)¼3665.28,p<.001, CFI ¼.951, TLI ¼.935,
RMSEA ¼.072. More importantly, the difference between the unifactorial and three-
factor models was significant,
(3)¼14338,p<.001. In addition, all factor loadings
were significant and positive. These analyses provide evidence for the dimensionality
of our measurement model that theoretically and empirically distinguished between
RWA, SDO, and national identification.
In order to test the main hypotheses of this study, we conducted a series of multilevel
regression models (Gelman & Hill, 2007) using the package lmerTest for R
(Kuznetsova, Brockhoff, & Christensen, 2017). We centered the Likert-scale individ-
ual-level predictors (RWA, SDO, social status) on their country means (Hox, 2010).
All the models are presented in Table 2. In Model 1, we included only the intercept
and obtained an intraclass correlation of .09, indicating that the 9% of the variance on
the dependent variable is accounted for by the hierarchical structure of the data. In
addition, treating the intercept as random significantly improved the goodness of fit,
2(1)¼1574,p<.001. In Model 2, we included the individual- and collective-level
predictors, obtaining an improvement in the goodness of fit, 2(6)¼3175,p<.001.
All the individual level variables were significantly associated with national identifi-
cation, but the civil liberties index was not a significant predictor. RWA was positively
related to national identity and SDO was a negative predictor. In Model 3, we treated
RWA as a random effect because our theoretical argument proposed that this variable
will not be equally related to national identification in all countries. We obtained
similar results to Model 2, but, interestingly, the goodness of fit was improved,
which reflects that the effect of RWA on national identification significantly varied
across countries, 2(2)¼346,p<.001. Finally, in Model 4, we included the
interaction term between RWA and civil liberties at the country-level, obtaining an
even better goodness of fit, 2(1)¼4,55,p¼.033. More importantly, the interaction
term was significant. As it is illustrated in Figure 1, a simple slope analysis showed
that the effect of RWA on national identification was stronger among countries low in
civil liberties (–1SD, b¼.47, s.e. ¼.04,p<.001) than among countries high in civil
liberties (þ1SD, b¼.33, s.e. ¼.05,p<.001).
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PUBLIC OPINION RESEARCH6
Multilevel Linear Regressions
Model 1Model 2Model 3Model 4
Bs.e. tp bs.e. tp Bs.e. tp bs.e. tp
Intercept 5.10 .11 48.10 .000 5.40 .36 18.19 .000 5.68 .33 17.11 .000 5.40 .36 15.19 .000
RWA .40 .01 49.42 .000 .40 .04 11.10 .000 .64 .11 5.77 .000
SDO –.10 .01 –9.84 .000 –.10 .01 –9.65 .000 –.10 .01 –9.61 .000
Social status .06 .01 10.62 .000 .06 .01 10.82 .000 .06 .01 10.82 .000
Age .02 .00 22.70 .000 .02 .00 23.36 .000 .02 .00 23.37 .000
Gender .08 .02 3.88 .000 .08 .02 3.88 .000 .08 .02 3.89 .000
Civil liberties –.04 .04 –.99 .334 –.08 .04 –1.99 .062 –.04 .04 –.99 .334
Civil liberties by RWA –.03 .01 –2.27 .035
Random effects (variance)
Intercept .21 .20 .21 .20
RWA .02 .02
Residual 2.07 1.72 1.68 1.68
Deviance 61236 58061 57715 57711
AIC 61242 58079 57737 57735
BIC 61265 58148 57822 57828
RESEARCH NOTE 7
We ran two main robustness checks to provide evidence for our hypotheses, discard-
ing several alternative explanations. First, we expected RWA—and not SDO—to be
moderated by civil liberties when predicting national identification. We ran a multi-
level regression model with the same independent variables as in the main analyses
but with SDO as a random effect instead of RWA. When comparing this model with
Model 3, in which all independent variables were included as fixed effects, the dif-
ference was significant, 2(2)¼128,p<.001. Furthermore, when the interaction
term between SDO and the index of civil liberties was added, the model was not
significantly different from the previous one, 2(1)¼.05,p¼.830. In addition, the
coefficient for the interaction was not significant, b¼.00, s.e. ¼.01,t¼.22,p¼
.830. This means that the effect of SDO on national identification was different by
country, but this variation was not accounted for by differences in civil liberties across
As a second robustness check, we included a measure of migration rate as a coun-
try-level control variable. According to our theoretical framework, RWA is influenced
by perceptions of social threats (Duckitt, 2006). Given that immigrants are often
perceived as a threat toward national in-groups (Stephan, Renfro, Esses, Stephan,
& Martin, 2005), it is important to rule out the alternative explanation that our results
might be due to the influence of migration—and not quality of democracy. For that
reason, we included net migration rate as a country-level variable in our models
(Central Intelligence Agency, 2016). This measure assesses the difference between
people entering and leaving a country per 1,000 persons. When including this variable
in the multilevel regression model, we observed a better prediction in comparison to
Model 4in main analyses, 2(1)¼4.43,p¼.035, with the net migration rate as a
significant country-level predictor, b¼–.08, s.e. ¼.03,t¼–2.35,p¼.030. In other
Simple slope analysis
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PUBLIC OPINION RESEARCH8
words, in those countries with more immigrants than emigrants, national identification
was lower. But more importantly, despite this country-level influence on national
identification, the interaction term between RWA and civil liberties remained signifi-
cant, b¼–.03, s.e. ¼.01,t¼–2.26.p¼.036.
In this article, we proposed that authoritarians will be, on average, highly identified
with their countries, but especially in those countries with low respect for civil
liberties. We based this argument on both the reformulation of RWA by Altemeyer
(1998), and the more recent context-based and personality traits perspective of the
dual process model (Sibley & Duckitt, 2008). According to these theories, authoritar-
ians will express more attachment toward their national ingroup in order to shelter
themselves from threats, whether they are from foreigners or deviants. In addition,
given that national identities are not homogeneous and are influenced by contextual
and historical factors (Pehrson, Vignoles, et al., 2009; Sawyer, Pena, & Sidanius,
2004), different national identities should be differentially appealing to authoritarian
individuals. Low quality of democracy, and particularly low respect for civil liberties,
is coherent with the punishment dimension of RWA highlighted by Altemeyer (1998):
Social deviants, who are feared as dangerous threats by high RWA individuals, are
legitimate targets of arbitrary punishment by the state in societies with low respect for
civil liberties (and low quality of democracy). This should result in national identities
being more appealing for authoritarian individuals in these societies. In a cross-
cultural sample of 19 countries, we found support for our hypotheses. After adjusting
for SDO and sociodemographic covariates, RWA positively predicted national iden-
tification. In addition, there were differences in these slopes by country: The associ-
ation was stronger among those countries low in a democratic index measuring respect
for civil liberties.
This research also provides evidence on the specific contribution of sociopolitical
variables in the construction of national identities. Most research in social psychology
has focused on individual variations in the conception of national identities (e.g.,
Pehrson, Brown, et al., 2009; Pehrson, Vignoles, et al., 2009) or on economic coun-
try-level factors (e.g., Kunovich, 2009; Pehrson, Vignoles, et al., 2009). One exception
in this field is the study conducted by Sawyer, Pen
˜a, and Sidanius (2004) that showed
a negative association between national identification and racism in countries with
strong egalitarian ideological agendas. Our study adds to this literature by showing
that national identification is not equally appealing for all citizens, but varies accord-
ing not only to RWA, but to the strength of respect for civil liberties at the country-
level interacting with RWA. This is an important contribution given that most of the
theoretical approaches in social psychology and other social sciences are expected to
vary according to contextual factors, but there is insufficient empirical research ad-
dressing this issue.
One unexpected result was the slight (but significant) negative association between
SDO and national identification. We suspect this finding is due to the particular
measure we used as the dependent variable. For instance, Osborne, Milojev, and
Sibley (2017) found that RWA positively and longitudinally predicted both
RESEARCH NOTE 9
nationalism and patriotism, but SDO was positively associated with nationalism and
negatively with patriotism. Our dependent variable, on the other hand, was national
identification, which is theoretically distinct from nationalism and patriotism. National
identification is the individual and collective self-concept defined in reference to na-
tional memberships (Staerkle, Sidanius, Green, & Molina, 2010); patriotism has been
understood as the emotional attachment toward the national in-group (Kosterman &
Feshbach, 1989); and nationalism is defined as a sense of superiority over other
countries (Li & Brewer, 2004). Based on these definitions, national identification is
theoretically more closely related to patriotism than nationalism. In addition, authori-
tarians—and not social dominants—are more focused on the needs of their ingroups.
Finally, the main limitation of our study is the use of brief measures for RWA and
national identification. Full versions of these measures might have led to higher
reliabilities, particularly for RWA. In addition, a related limitation is that the scale
reliability for SDO was modest where reversed items reduced reliability. We suspect
this is associated with the different languages in which the questionnaire was admin-
istered. Indeed, other scales, when translated from English to other languages, have
had the same difficulties regarding reverse items (for example see the Ambivalent
Sexism Inventory, Glick et al., 2000). Moreover, with the inclusion of the complete
version of these scales, we might have been able to test the relationship between the
different dimensions of RWA and national identification.
Overall, this article highlights the importance of people’s support for authoritarian
worldviews and the role of country level sustenance for civil liberties in establishing
in-group national sentiment. In doing so, the study advances our understanding of
both contextual and structural political variables that may better explain the ante-
cedents that forge public opinion on national identification.
This research was funded by ‘Grant FA2386-15-1-0003’ from the Asian Office of
Aerospace Research and Development. This article was funded by the ‘CONICYT
PFCHA/MAGISTER BECAS CHILE/2018 –73190011’.
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RESEARCH NOTE 13
Salvador Vargas-Salfate is researcher at Faculty of Education and Social Sciences,
Universidad Andres Bello, Santiago in Chile and master student in Psychology at
New York University. His research addresses political psychology and processes
related to legitimation of inequalities.
James H. Liu is Professor of Psychology and Head of School at Massey University in
New Zealand. He completed a PhD at UCLA, followed by a post-doc at Florida
Atlantic University. He taught at Victoria University of Wellington for twenty years,
becoming Co-Director of its Centre for Applied Cross-Cultural Research (2010–2014).
His research is in cross-cultural, social, and political psychology, specializing in social
representations of history and their relationship to identity, prejudice, and interna-
tional relations. He has more recent interests in global consciousness, and digital
influence– how systems like liberal democracy and hierarchical relationalism function
to create global social order.
Homero Gil de Zu
´n˜iga is the Medienwandel Chair Professor at the University of
Vienna, where he directs the Media Innovation Lab (MiLab) within the College of
Social Sciences. He completed a PhD in Politics from the Universidad Europea de
Madrid and a PhD in Mass Communication from University of Wisconsin-Madison.
His research addresses the influence of new technologies and digital media in people’s
daily lives, as well as the effect of such use on the overall democratic process.
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