Right-wing Authoritarian vs. Social Dominance Orientation

[Note: The initial draft of this post was written in January 2016 and updated in March 2016 (before the 2016 election) and was based on information about the current POTUS Donald Trump as a candidate. Most of the concerns and patterns described have since been confirmed during the election and the recent Cabinet candidates submitted to Congress. Additional definitions and references have been added for this posted version.]


Right-wing Authoritarian vs.  Social Dominance Orientation

One of the truly puzzling phenomena observed in the 2016 election cycle has been the unpredictable appeal of a bombastic, narcissistic, crude, rude and mean-spirited scam artist as a leading candidate for President of the United States. Besides the general sense of dissatisfaction and fear among the populace, the best explanation for the rise of such political figures is the dynamic between a leader with social dominance orientation and followers who are right-wing authoritarians.


Right-wing Authoritarianism (RWA):

Right wing authoritarianism represents the extent to which individuals feel that authorities should be followed. Specifically, right wing authoritarianism comprises three key related attitudes: Individuals submit to authorities, they endorse aggression towards anyone who violates regulations, and they follow the established traditions of society (e.g., Altemeyer, 1998). These three attitudes are called authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, and conventionalism respectively. These attitudes represent key determinants of prejudice (Altemeyer, 1998).

Social Dominance Orientation (SDO):

SDO is considered to be “the degree to which individuals desire and support group-based hierarchy and the dominance of `inferior’ groups by `superior’ groups.” It is an orientation that encompasses a whole range of group biases, based on age, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality or religion. It is one aspect of Social Dominance Theory (SDT), a theory that places individual SDO into a larger context which serves to explain the maintenance and perpetuation of hierarchically-structured societies.  This includes factors contributing to SDO, as well as results following from SDO.


Distinctive Traits

Right-wing Authoritarianism (RWA) and Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) have common links which have been identified in social science and psychological research over the past several decades.

A summary of the key defining attitudes and behaviors is given by Wikipedia (see original article for references):

Right-wing authoritarianism is defined by three attitudinal and behavioral clusters which correlate together:

  1. Authoritarian submission — a high degree of submissiveness to the authorities who are perceived to be established and legitimate in the society in which one lives.
  2. Authoritarian aggression — a general aggressiveness directed against deviants, outgroups, and other people that are perceived to be targets according to established authorities.
  3. Conventionalism — a high degree of adherence to the traditions and social norms that are perceived to be endorsed by society and its established authorities, and a belief that others in one’s society should also be required to adhere to these norms.

The terminology of authoritarianism, right-wing authoritarianism, and authoritarian personality tend to be used interchangeably by psychologists, though inclusion of the term “personality” may indicate a psychodynamic interpretation consistent with the original formulation of the theory.


There has also been research for decades into the personality types or traits that correlate to or predict RWA and SDO tendencies. [1][2][3]

According to Altemeyer [1] a primary distinguishing characteristic between RWA and SDO is that RWA’s tend to be the faithful followers while the SDO always tries to dominate others, regardless of group ideology. Thus the most extreme right-wing groups often have a SDO as the leader, while most followers are the RWAs. This applies equally to political or religious groups and other far right-wing organizations or affiliations.

RWA-SDO traits are identified by answers given to the questions in the test at: <http://personality-testing.info/tests/RWAS/>, <https://helloquizzy.okcupid.com/tests/the-altemeyer-authoritarian-test> or several others that can be found by a Google search.

This article has one of the most extensive descriptions of the traits of authoritarianism that I’ve seen (short of academic journals or books). <http://www.vox.com/2016/3/1/11127424/trump-authoritarianism>


Books and Academic References:

  1. The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer – Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada — This e-book is a layman’s guide to the science behind the criteria for defining and identifying right-wing authoritarianism. Altemeyer is the originator of the current RWA measurement scale and one of the more prolific writers on RWA and SDO traits.
  2. Right-Wing Authoritarianism, Social Dominance Orientation and Personality: An Analysis Using the IPIP Measure by Patrick C. L. Heaven* and Sandra Bucci – Department of Psychology, University of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia  – European Journal of Personality Eur. J. Pers. 15: 49±56 (2001) — Study on use of personality scale metrics as predictor of RWA and SDO traits.
  3. Right-Wing Authoritarianism and Social Dominance Orientation: Their Roots in Big-Five Personality Factors and Facets by NazarAkrami and Bo Ekehammar, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden – Journal of Individual Differences 2006; Vol. 27(3):xxx–xxx — This study aimed to find relationships between  personality factors (broad measures) and factors (discrete criteria) to SWO and RWA measures. This approach attempted to isolate inborn personality traits from social influence on the SWO and RWA measurements.

Online References:

This series of articles explains how the rise of at least one of the current Presidential candidates (2016 election) is linked to appeals to authoritarianism. (Listed in chronological order.)

Many other related articles were found, but list is too long to include here.


About Hoosedwhut

Engineer - by education, training, and career experience. Philosopher - by inclination and choice. Amateur psychologist - by instinct and necessity. Amateur theologian - by birth into two distinct worlds...
This entry was posted in Fundamentalist Myths, Politics and Social Issues, Religion, Right-wing Authoritarians. Bookmark the permalink.

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