1/4 of Americans qualify as highly ‘right-wing authoritarian,’ new poll finds

Trump won
Former President Trump’s supporters gather near his Mar-a-Lago home on Feb. 15, 2021. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • More than one-quarter of Americans have right-wing authoritarian political beliefs, according to new polling.
  • The study found that 26% of Americans score high on scale of right-wing authoritarianism.
  • Those who lean to the right and are “high-RWA” scoring have similar views on the 2020 election outcome.
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More than one quarter of Americans qualify as having right-wing authoritarian political beliefs, according to new polling by Morning Consult.

The study used authoritarian researcher Bob Altemeyer’s definition and scoring system of right-wing authoritarianism, which defines it as a “desire to submit to some authority, aggression that is directed against whomever the authority says should be targeted and a desire to have everybody follow the norms and social conventions that the authority says should be followed,” according to Morning Consult.

The poll categorized respondents as “high-RWA” if they scored in the top 15% of respondents and “low-RWA” if they scored in the bottom 15%, based on Altemeyer’s authoritarianism scale.

The survey asked adults in the US and seven foreign countries — Canada, Australia, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain — whether they believe 2020 election was determined by fraudulent votes, whether Capitol rioters did more to protect than undermine the US government, and whether masks and vaccines are key to stopping the spread of COVID-19. It found that right-leaning Americans and those who scored high on the right-wing authoritarian scale had quite similar responses on these three questions.

Sixty-four percent of right-leaning American adults said President Joe Biden won the election because of widespread voter fraud, while 55% of high-RWA respondents said the same. About a third — 34% — of right-leaning adults and 26% of high-RWA respondents said the Capitol rioters were protecting the government when they stormed the building. Meanwhile, 20% of right-leaning and 23% of high-RWA respondents said vaccines aren’t necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Morning Consult found that there are twice as many high-RWA Americans as there are in the most authoritarian-leaning populations in peer countries. Twenty-six percent of Americans scored in the high-RWA category compared with 13% of Canadians and Australians, and 10% of UK adults.

Among the eight countries, the US had the largest gap — 39 points — on support for right-wing authoritarianism between the political left and right.

The poll surveyed 1,000 adults in seven foreign countries and the US between late April and early May and has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.