Authoritarianism and Political Impoverishment: Deficits in Knowledge and Civic Disinterest

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Abstract

Past research shows that authoritarian individuals hold strong opinions about a variety of political and social issues, such as race relations and military conflict. What has not been established, though, is the amount of general political knowledge that authoritarians possess. In this study, three groups of college students were administered Altemeyer’s Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) scale; most of them also received items assessing general political knowledge and specific knowledge about the 2000 presidential election, as well as items assessing interest in politics. Relative to students with low RWA scores, those with high scores possessed less political knowledge; moreover, they expressed less interest in learning about politics. In general, authoritarianism was unrelated to how individuals got their political information or how credible they found their sources. The implication that authoritarians hold strong attitudinal beliefs with weak political knowledge is discussed.

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