Research has demonstrated that situational factors such as perceived threats to the social order activate latent authoritarianism. The deadly COVID-19 pandemic presents a rare opportunity to test whether existential threat stemming from an indiscriminate virus moderates the relationship between authoritarianism and political attitudes toward the nation and outgroups. Using data from a large, nationally representative sample of adults in the UK (N = 2,025) collected during the first week of strict lockdown measures (23-28 March 2020), we find that the associations between right-wing authoritarianism and 1) nationalism and 2) anti-immigrant attitudes are conditional on levels of perceived threat. As anxiety about the COVID-19 pandemic increases, so too does the effect of right-wing authoritarianism on those political outcomes. Thus, it appears that grave threats to humanity from the COVID-19 pandemic activate authoritarians in society, which in turn, shifts opinion toward nationalistic and anti-immigrant sentiments.
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