The Authoritarian Dynamic During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Effects on Nationalism and Anti-Immigrant Sentiment

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

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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 pages12
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Issue number7
Early online date11 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 11 Sept 2021


  • COVID-19
  • authoritarianism
  • immigration
  • nationalism
  • pandemic
  • social dominance orientation
  • threat


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