Intergroup Conflict and Public Support for Authoritarian Leaders

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Lasse Laustsen


DKK 350,000




Internationalisation Fellowships


Recent political events show the rise of popular support for authoritarian and dominant political leaders across the world. To many, the most prominent example of this tendency is probably Donald Trump in the United States. Yet, other prominent examples are President Erdogan in Turkey and President Duterte in the Philippines. Existing research stresses intergroup conflict as one of the main drivers of public support for authoritarian styles of leadership. However, from existing work it remains unclear how ordinary citizens come to associate intergroup conflict with needs for dominant and assertive character traits in political leaders. Consequently, this project seeks to investigate how and why citizens come to prefer authoritarian leaders under intergroup conflict.


The rise of authoritarian leaders often goes hand in hand with insecurity, uncertainty and exploitative actions directed at minority groups. Thus, understanding the reasons why citizens come to prefer authoritarian leaders are essential to avoid these adverse consequences. Existing research falls short of answering this question in two important ways. First, citizens could come to prefer more dominant leaders under intergroup conflict because a) they are socialized to make this link, or b) it reflects deeper-seated psychological intuitions hardwired in the human mind. Second, most research is based entirely on experimental studies, whereas it remains unclear how well the association between intergroup conflict and preferences for dominant leadership travels outside the laboratory.


The project consists of two components directed at addressing the two unresolved questions outlined above. Component 1 tests if the association between intergroup conflict and preferences for authoritarian leaders is already at work among preschool children-before major forces of socialisation have molded the individual and its behaviors. If so, this would suggest that the association is grounded in deeper psychological intuitions rather than processes of socialisation. Component 2 seeks to test the generalisability of the association between intergroup conflict and preferences for dominant leadership outside the confines of experimental settings by combining large-scale data sources on macro-level indicators of intergroup conflict and individual preferences for authoritarian leadership.

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