The authoritarian dynamic during the COVID-19 pandemic: Effects on nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment

Todd K Hartman, Thomas VA Stocks, Ryan McKay, Jilly Gibson-Miller, Liat Levita, A. P. Martinez, Liam Mason, Orla McBride, Jamie Murphy, Mark Shevlin, Kate Bennett, P. Hyland, T. Karatzias, Frédérique Vallières, Richard Bentall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research has demonstrated that situational factors such as perceived threats to the social orderactivate latent authoritarianism. The deadly COVID-19 pandemic presents a rare opportunity totest whether existential threat stemming from an indiscriminate virus moderates the relationshipbetween authoritarianism and political attitudes toward the nation and outgroups. Using data fromtwo large nationally representative samples of adults in the United Kingdom (N = 2,025) andRepublic of Ireland (N = 1,041) collected during the initial phases of strict lockdown measures inboth countries, we find that the associations between right-wing authoritarianism and 1)nationalism and 2) anti- immigrant attitudes are conditional on levels of perceived threat. Asanxiety about the COVID-19 pandemic increases, so too does the effect of right-wingauthoritarianism on those political outcomes. Thus, it appears that existential threats to humanityfrom the COVID-19 pandemic moderate expressions of authoritarianism in society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1274-1285
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Issue number7
Early online date11 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021

Cite this