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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

  • External authors:
  • 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


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.

Bibliographical metadata

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 Sep 2021