The threat of terrorism has been shown to be transforming societal norms toward authoritarianism, according to research published in Political Psychology. Moreover, normative threats (i.e., perceptions of dissatisfaction with established authority) have widen the gap between authoritarian and libertarian beliefs.
Authoritarianism was one of those topics I found particularly interesting in a graduate school class on political psychology. This was when we saw Altemeyer and some of the other studies from the 1980s and 1990s, according to study author Daniel Stevens, a professor of politics at the University of Exeter.
Although authoritarianism was never my main research field, I kept coming back to it in one form or another after graduation. In 2005, I published a book with Ben Bishin and Rob Barr about authoritarianism among Latin American elites, and a study with Nick Vaughan-Williams on security threats in Britain, in which authoritarianism was one of the key explanations.
In the meantime, Karen Stenners'' book on The Authoritarian Dynamic had been published, along with Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiners books challenging her theory, and I began to take a more active role because of their various findings.
Despite the threat of terrorism, it has been shown to increase hostility against immigrants and increase support for strict border control. Authoritarians prefer conservative policies when they perceive a greater normative threat, while libertarians (those low in authoritarianism) either become more tolerant or dislike their views at all times.
Because of the threat, Stevens and his co-author Susan Banducci argue that minorities who earn praise on authoritarianism are underrepresented. They used research collected in the BES panel on perceptions of threat before and after terrorist attacks that year in Manchester.
Following the Manchester bombing terrorist attack on May 22, 2017, only 12% of respondents described terrorism as the most prevalent issue facing the United Kingdom. This increase was up 300%, indicating that authoritarians were more likely than libertarians to define terrorism as the country''s main threat before and after the attack.
The Manchester bombing also influenced a normative threat. Manchester''s impact was to increase the perceptions of terrorism across the authoritarian spectrum, which was accompanied by an increase in perceptions of normative threat among high authoritarians, according to researchers.
According to figures, the disconnect between terrorist threat and authoritarianism is weakening, implying that libertarians adopt more conservative attitudes when threatened by terrorism. However, the evidence suggests that normative threats activate authoritarian attitudes. In other words, the gap between authoritarians and libertarians is expanding.
When bad things happen in the world, such as a terrorist attack, societies understandably desire things like more law and order and become more willing to compromise on freedoms. However, they may also produce other beliefs and behaviors, such as stereotyping and tolerance of minorities, as well as a willingness to compromise fundamental democratic principles, often called "liberty backsliding."
While all of this is well established in previous research, not everybody changes in this way. Who changes, i.e., which kinds of individuals we need to worry about in this sense, is the million dollar question that has had a less clear answer.
According to Stevens, those high and low in authoritarianism respond to a range of threats. We demonstrate how this unfolded following the 2017 Manchester bombing in Britain, where high authoritarians were more likely to backslide as they perceived elite disagreement after the bombing (low authoritarians are less likely to backslide), while low authoritarians are more likely to backslide when they perceive a greater personal threat from terrorism (high authoritarians are unaffected by these
The answer to the question of who changes depends on the nature of threats, according to him. It is also crucial that media and elites talk about threats, e.g., if George W. Bush speaks about the Muslim faith following 9/11, rather than Donald Trump''s Islam rhetoric.
According to Stevens, some limitations to the research are present. Despite this fact, we are using surveys that we did not collect ourselves. Consequently, while dependent variables relate to what could be described as a conservative shift, they do not, unfortunately, get at intolerance or democratic backsliding.
There are a number of issues to be addressed, including the connection between different kinds of threats and how/why perceptions of threat change over time, according to Stevens. Finally, there is the persistent possibility of more research by having more studies outside the United States.
Daniel Stevens and Susan Banducci were the authors of this study, entitled "Authitarianism, Terrorism, and Threat."