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, Anton P Martinez, Liam Mason, Orla McBride, Jamie Murphy, M Shevlin, K Bennett, Phillip Hyland, T Karatzias, Frederique Vallieres, Richard Bentall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)
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Research has demonstrated that situational factors such as perceived threats to the social order activate latent authoritarianism. The deadly COVID-19 pandemic presents a rare opportunity to test whether existential threat stemming from an indiscriminate virus moderates the relationship between authoritarianism and political attitudes toward the nation and out-groups. Using data from two large nationally representative samples of adults in the United Kingdom (N = 2,025) and Republic of Ireland (N = 1,041) collected during the initial phases of strict lockdown measures in both countries, we find that the associations between right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) and (1) nationalism and (2) anti-immigrant attitudes are conditional on levels of perceived threat. As anxiety about the COVID-19 pandemic increases, so too does the effect of RWA on those political outcomes. Thus, it appears that existential threats to humanity from the COVID-19 pandemic moderate expressions of authoritarianism in society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1274-1285
Number of pages11
Journalsocial psychological and personality science
Issue number7
Early online date11 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Sept 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The initial stages of this project were supported by start-up funds from the University of Sheffield (Department of Psychology, the Sheffield Methods Institute, and the Higher Education Innovation Fund via an Impact Acceleration grant administered by the university) and by the Faculty of Life and Health Sciences at Ulster University. The research was subsequently supported by the ESRC (grant ref. ES/V004379/1): ‘A longitudinal mixed-methods population study of the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic: Psychological and social adjustment to a global threat’. TKH, JGM, LL, LM, OM, JM, MS, KB, and RPB received financial support from this grant for the submitted work.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • threat
  • political attitudes
  • Authoritarianism
  • Nationalism
  • COVID-19
  • authoritarianism
  • immigration
  • social dominance orientation
  • nationalism
  • pandemic
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Social Psychology


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