Who Is Open to Authoritarian Governance within Western Democracies?
By Ariel Malka, Yeshiva University,
Yphtach Lelkes, University of Pennsylvania,
Bert N. Bakker, University of Amsterdam
and Eliyahu Spivack, Yeshiva University
Recent events have raised concern about potential threats to democracy within Western countries. If Western citizens who are open to authoritarian governance share a common set of political preferences, then authoritarian elites can attract mass coalitions that are willing to subvert democracy to achieve shared ideological goals. With this in mind, we explored which ideological groups are most open to authoritarian governance within Western general publics using World Values Survey data from fourteen Western democracies and three recent Latin American Public Opinion Project samples from Canada and the United States. Two key findings emerged. First, cultural conservatism was consistently associated with openness to authoritarian governance. Second, within half of the democracies studied, including all of the English-speaking ones, Western citizens holding a protection-based attitude package⸺combining cultural conservatism with left economic attitudes⸺were the most open to authoritarian governance. Within other countries, protection-based and consistently right-wing attitude packages were associated with similarly high levels of openness to authoritarian governance. We discuss implications for radical right populism and the possibility of splitting potentially undemocratic mass coalitions along economic lines.