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Why are right-wing voters attracted to dominant leaders? Assessing competing theories of psychological mechanisms

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Research shows that conservative and right-wing individuals are more likely than liberal and left-wing individuals to prefer dominant leaders. According to adaptive followership theory, this reflects psychological mechanisms that tag dominant individuals as more competent under situations of conflict. Conservatives tend to view the world as dangerous and ridden with intergroup conflict and, hence, have heightened preferences for dominant leaders (the competence explanation). Yet, an alternative mechanism is possible, where people stereotypically associate dominant-looking leaders with conservativism such that conservatives perceive these leaders as more similar to themselves (the similarity explanation). Hence, the effects of dominance might not be a matter of perceived competence but of perceived policy agreement. This article pits these explanations about the underlying psychological mechanisms against each other. Using nationally representative survey experiments, we find support for the competence explanation by demonstrating that right-wing individuals prefer dominant candidates even if they are clearly politically closer to non-dominant candidates. This preference for dominant candidates only fades when the dominant candidates are from entirely different political parties than the right-wing individuals themselves.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101301
JournalThe Leadership Quarterly
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020

    Research areas

  • Evolutionary leadership theory, Followership psychology, Leader preferences, Political ideology, Political leadership

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