Polarization in society may hold consequences beyond the undermining of social cohesion. Here we provide the first evidence highlighting the power of perceived moral polarization in society to drive support for strong leaders. Across two studies and four samples drawn from the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States (N = 1,664), we found evidence linking perceived moral polarization with perceived anomie in society (defined as the perceived breakdown of social fabric and leadership) and with the rise in support for leaders with both a conservative/authoritarian and progressive/democratic style. Specifically, via the perceived breakdown in social fabric, heightened moral polarization predicted increased support for conservative/authoritarian style strong leaders, and via the perceived breakdown of leadership, increased support for progressive/democratic style strong leaders. Experimentally, using a fictionalized society paradigm, we then established causal links between moral polarization and the desire to elect conservative/authoritarian and progressive/democratic strong leaders. The current research is the first to identify the potential political consequences of heightened perceived moral polarization in two-party liberal democracies and contributes to the growing body of research highlighting the role of societal factors in driving support for strong leaders.
Crimston, C. R., Selvanathan, H. P., & Jetten, J. (2021). Moral Polarization Predicts Support for Authoritarian and Progressive Strong Leaders via the Perceived Breakdown of Society. Political Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1111/pops.12787