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The Journal of Social Psychology, 1982, 117, 33-44.



University of New South Wales, Australia


The Eysenck/Rokeach/Kerlinger theory that social attitudes are two dimensional suffers from disagreement about what the second dimension should be called and how it should be measured. The present work tests the proposal that there is a dimension of libertarian/authoritarian attitudes orthogonal to radicalism/conservatism. A set of items designed to maximize the likelihood of such dimensions appearing was administered to a random postal sample of Californians. No real evidence of the proposed second dimension appeared. It was concluded that authoritarianism is a personality variable only.


At least in the Anglo-Saxon world, there has long been a tendency to order both political opinions and political parties along a single Right/Left continuum. The major parties on this continuum tend to make the nature of the continuum confusing. The Right-wing end may be Republicans (U.S.A.), Liberals (Australia), Conservatives (Britain and Canada), or Nationals (New Zealand). The Left-wing end may be Democrats (U.S.A.), Labor (Australia, Britain, and New Zealand), or Liberals (Canada). To make matters worse, supporters of the Leftist end of the continuum also tend to be referred to as Liberals in the U.S.A. and Socialists in Australia, Britain, and New Zealand. For the sake of uniformity of practice, the continuum will be referred to hereafter in this paper as the Radical/ Conservative dimension. Even this labelling, however, is proposed with some trepidation. Are the gerontocrats of the Kremlin radical or conservative? In the controversy between the more extreme Reaganites who want to tear down existing government welfare programs and the liberals who want to preserve them, who are the conservatives and who are the radicals?

It was of course precisely this unsatisfactory state of affair, that led several authors to propose that the confusion arises, only because there is not one dimension there at all. There are in fact two dimensions along which political parties and opinion, vary and any attempt to collapse the two into one must necessarily be confusing. The most elegant of these proposals was probably that made by Eysenck (6). He proposed that orthogonal to radicalism/ conservatism was a second dimension of tough/ tender-mindedness. Thus the gerontocrats of the Kremlin may have some things in common with U.S. Liberals but they differ in being very toughminded. Fascists and Communists also fit well into this schema: They are very close together in being very tough-minded but are very far apart on radicalism conservatism.

Elegant though Eysenck's theory is as an account of similarities between political parties, it proved inadequate when applied to describing the attitudes of individuals. Eysenck could find no attitudes which were peculiarly tough- or tender-minded There were only a variety of Leftist and Rightist attitude which he chose to call tough- or tender-minded. He defended this action by saying that it was in fact unreasonable to expect an attitude to be merely tough. It had to have some content and hence must be either Right-tough or Left-tough. This defence, however, was deemed insufficient by Christie (3) and Rokeach and Hanley (36) who felt that Eysenck's methods in fact contained some element, of imposture and that it was highly artificial to create a position on a second dimension simply by weighting selected Rightist and Leftist items against one another. Such matters of opinion aside, there are elements of Eysenck's theory which are directly testable. His explanation that tough-mindedness is simply the projection on to the attitude dimension of a personality variable (extraversion) leads to the deduction that authoritarians in the California F scale sense should be extraverted. When tested, however, this prediction turns out to be the reverse of the true state of affairs (29). Eysenck and Wilson (8) have recently revised the earlier theory to say that the personality variable involved is "psychoticism" as measured by Eysenck's new "P" scale. The theory that authoritarians are psychotic in this sense again proves to be the reverse of the truth (33). Authoritarians in the F scale sense are introverted and nonpsychotic. In summary, then, the difficulties with Eysenck's theory seem to be fairly severe [see also Pearson and Greatorex (17)].

Rokeach's theory, by contrast, has received very little criticism. He (35) proposed that the second dimension orthogonal to radicalism/conservatism was dogmatism. Communists and Fascists may have been opposed ideologically but both were dogmatic or "closed-minded." Unlike Eysenck, Rokeach succeeded in producing many items which were just closedminded with little other political polarization. One could measure people's attitudes with the Rokeach D scale without at the same time measuring their political beliefs. There would seem to be, however, three rather important limitations to Rokeach's work. Like Eysenck, the only dimension he in fact, succeeded in measuring in its own right is really a personality variable rather than an attitude dimension per se. The distinction between attitude and personality is a difficult one but one that may have to be made. In his scale. Rokeach is repeatedly asking people about what they do or about how they respond. He is not asking their opinion on social or political issues. Thus whatever his scale may be, it cannot be measuring a dimension of social or political issues. At best, it may be measuring something that interacts with political opinions and shapes the mode of their expression. A second but related criticism is that closed-mindedness may be a part of what Fascism and Communism have in common, but is it the whole of what they have in common or even an important part of it? Surely their attitude toward the destruction of their fellow creatures or their -preference for an all-powerful and all-important State would be more obvious common elements. Also, there are many religious people who are surely as dogmatic and as closed-minded as can be and yet whose allegiance to the State (to "Caesar") is anything but total and whose social policy preferences are of a thoroughly compassionate ("Christian") kind. One example might perhaps be pacifists when they become conscientious objectors. They are surely thereby being fairly dogmatic about the rightness of their beliefs, yet are also showing a very untotalitarian respect for human life and are defiant of the State. Clearly, closed-mindedness does not always lead to behaviors characteristic of totalitarian states. It could even be overall totally orthogonal to totalitarianism. The fact that Fascism and Communism have closed-mindedness in common may, in other words, be relatively incidental. It is in fact presumably possible to be dogmatic about anything, even about the need for moderation and compromise (2).

The third criticism of Rokeach's work and the one which may ultimately be most fatal is doubt about whether his D scale measures anything much at all. If a statement means anything at all, it should be possible to deny it; yet this does not seem to be true of D scale items. The long-standing problem (4) of writing "reversed" versions of F scale items would appear to have been solved to a substantial extent (20), but the same cannot be said of the D scale (24, 28). In spite of many attempts to construct balanced D scales (18, 28), it still seems to be possible for a large proportion of respondents to agree both with an original D scale item and with its nominal contradictory. Thus the D scale would appear either to measure virtually nothing or something that is very different from what it is conceived as measuring. Either way, Rokeach appears to be left in the same position as Eysenck -- with an interesting theory but with no satisfactory scale to measure its focal variable.

The third writer to have urged a two-dimensional description of social attitudes is Kerlinger (13, i4). Unlike the previous authors, however, he seeks a complete restructuring of the domain. Instead of adding a second dimension to radicalism/conservatism, he claims that radicalism and conservatism are themselves orthogonal. While the theory is more plausible on reflection than might at first appear, it does nonetheless seem to be the case that Kerlinger's findings can more simply accounted for as the outcome of acquiescent response set alone (30). When acquiescent response set is controlled for, the apparent orthogonality between radicalism and conservatism is replaced Is a thoroughgoing opposition.

In the circumstances, then, it can be concluded that two dimensional accounts of social and political attitudes have failed to live up to their initial promise. The failure, however, seems to have been more pronounced in the measuring instruments to test the theory than in the theory itself. Perhaps, then, there is still something that can be salvaged from the theory if better measuring instruments can be devised. The present study was begun with that objective.

As a preliminary to the empirical work, a slight theoretical reconceptualization of the second dimension is proposed. Instead of tough- tendermindedness or open- closed-mindedness, the labelling proposed is authoritarian-libertarian. This choice of label was made with an eye to the transformations of the political scene that have taken place in recent years. While the American Libertarian party is not an important political power in its own right, libertarian and free-market ideas have an undisputably powerful influence on the Reagan administration. This influence was in fact felt even earlier in other Anglo-Saxon countries, with Malcolm Fraser's administration in Australia and Margaret Thatcher's in Britain. While the limitations of interest-group politics mean that all three of these leaders have to placate traditional conservative nonlibertarian forces, there is no doubt that the major inspiration of all three leaders is in the libertarian philosophy of economic writers such as Friedman. Hayek, and Von Mises (11, 12, 38).

Traditionally, all major political parties of the Anglo-Saxon world have said that they are in favor of liberty. In practice, however. what they seem to be in favor of is not a maximum of liberty in general but rather of a specific set of liberties. Thus conservatives are generally in favor of the businessman's freedom to make a profit, while radicals are in favor of people being free to engage in any sexual activity that suits them. That one could favor both sorts of liberty (economic and moral has been traditionally fairly inconceivable; yet this is precisely what modern-day libertarians favor (10, 39). Finding their seminal influences in the writings of Ayn Rand and the "Austrian" school of economics, they seem to have a stronghold in California where they have important foci such as the Cato Institute of San Francisco and where their ideas seem generally very widely known. They even seem to have produced a Californian president to put at least some of their economic ideas into practice. In California, then, it seemed possible that advocacy of liberty as such might be an important dimension of political and social attitudes. In California, we might be able to escape Eysenck's dilemma of being able to find only Rightist and Leftist versions of our second dimension.

The opposing of "authoritarian" to "libertarian" in the present conceptualization has the advantage of including actions that both sides of politics take in behalf of different causes from time to time. Both sides wish to substitute government regulation for individual decision in fields as diverse as product safety standards and access to abortions. They wish to commandeer large slices of people's income and of the nation's resources to support their favored projects. The authoritarianism of this activity is exposed if it is asked how many persons would pay the same amount of tax if all tax payments were made voluntary? One side of politics may wish to spend tax revenue on defense and the other to spend it on welfare, but both resort to government coercion to raise the money in the first place.


In writing the items to be used for measuring the two proposed dimensions, care was taken to include equal proportions of items expressing the types of liberty and government intervention favored by both Left and Right. Thus of the 68 items used, each could be scored either for its position on radicalism/conservatism or for its position on authoritarianism/libertarianism. There were thus 34 libertarian items, 34 authoritarian items, 34 radical items, and 34 conservative items. If there were in fact large numbers of people in the sample who were libertarians as such, therefore, we should have found large numbers of people who agreed with both Right/libertarian and Left/libertarian items. This would mean that each dimension would be in some sense undermining the internal consistency of the other. The more people polarized on libertarianism, the lower should be the internal consistency of the data when scored for radicalism/ conservatism, and vice versa. The items were taken from a variety of sources, including the California F scale (1), the Ray "Attitude to Authority" scale (19), and various Conservatism scales that had been used by the author on previous occasions. A majority of the items, however, had to be freshly written with an eye to what was likely to be topical in California at the time.

A total of 500 questionnaires containing the above items were mailed out to a sample of people selected from the voter registration lists of Los Angeles and Orange counties in California. Although the selection of initial addressees was random, there was of course no expectation that the final sample would be random. It was simply hoped to obtain a sample that would have greater representativeness than the normal nonsample of students that figures so prominently in most psychological research. The mean age was 43.4 years, 41% were female, mean education was between Senior High School and College, and only 33% worked in manual occupations. The total n actually obtained was 70. The mail-out took place in late 1979. This was kindly done by Facts Consolidated of Los Angeles, who were also the return address on the reply-paid envelope. The preamble to the questionnaire was couched in the form of a letter from Australia signed by the present author.


The work by both Kerlinger and Eysenck tended to point to the inadequacy of mechanical factor analysis, and to the need for the analysis to reflect some theory. As an initial step, therefore, the four quadrants of items (17 radical-libertarian or RADLIB items, 17 radical-authoritarian or RADAUTH items, 17 conservative-libertarian or CONLIB items, and 17 conservative-authoritarian or CONAUTH items) were scored as separate scales. The reliabilities ("alpha") thus achieved gave some testimony to the adequacy of the initial item classifications. They were as follows: RADLIB .81, CONLIB .80. RADAUTH .80, CONAUTH .82. RADLIB and CONLIB scales correlated only -.013 and RADAUTH and CONAUTH correlated only -.109. By contrast, RADLIB and RADAUTH scales correlated .553 and CONLIB and CONAUTH scales correlated .625. Agreeing with libertarian positions of a conservative kind gave no increase in probability of agreeing with libertarian positions of a radical kind. Libertarianism and authoritarianism did not generalize across ideological boundaries. By contrast, a person who favored conservative positions of a libertarian kind was highly likely also to favor conservative positions of an authoritarian kind. Libertarianism as a general orientation was as absent in the sample as radicalism/conservatism was present.

A principal components factor analysis with orthogonal varimax rotations was carried out. Two factors with considerable similarity to those reported by Kerlinger were observed. There was a fairly clear first factor of old-fashioned conservatism with high loading on such items as, "The Army is very good for straightening men out and smartening them up" (CONAUTH), "Schoolchildren should have plenty of discipline" (CONAUTH), "This country today needs more individualists like the cowboys of the old West" (CONLIB), "The police deserve more praise for the difficult job they do" (CONAUTH). "There should be more limits on government tax powers like Proposition 13" (CONLIB), and "Busing of children to school outside their own neighborhoods is an unforgivable infringement of individual liberties" (CONLIB). The second factor was also fairly clearly a liberalism factor loading highly such items as, "A free dental service should be provided by the Federal government" (RADAUTH), "It would be fairer if the government owned all industry" (RADAUTH), "This country should use its Navy to prevent any more killing of whales" (RADAUTH). "Government attempts to prevent people using marijuana are just about as stupid as prohibition of alcohol was" (RADLIB), "Laws against homosexuality are old-fashioned and wrong" (RADLIB) and "Religion is a snare and a racket" (RADLIB). The orthogonality of these two factors was mirrored when the data were scored as two scales, of radicalism and conservatism. These correlated only .197. Thus. while there is orthogonality- of a sort in the data, it is orthogonality that is to be expected wherever there is a strong acquiescence effect present (30). That there was such an effect present on this occasion is, testified to by the reliability of the 68 items when scored for acquiescence only (i.e. with no reverse-scoring to equate radically-worded and conservatively-worded items). The alpha was .83. This means that the items were nearly as good at measuring acquiescence as they were at measuring their explicit content. Further discussion on the procedures for assessing the influence of acquiescence can be found elsewhere (16, 18, 24, 27, 30, 31, 34).


Even in the California of late 1979, attitude to liberty or rejection of government authoritarianism per se were not important or even detectable influences on political opinion and social attitudes. Libertarianism/ authoritarianism seems to be as inadequate as tough-/tender-mindedneess or open-/closed-mindedness as a proposal for a second dimension to describe political attitudes. All three schemata may have considerable value in conceptualizing and explaining the stances taken by different political parties at different times, but none is adequate to describe the attitudes of the voters themselves. Conservatives favor one sort of liberty and radicals another and never the twain, it appears, shall meet.

The present findings are of course as much a testimony to the resilience of the old political polarities even in the California of today as they are of anything else. No matter how much the beliefs making up a radical or a conservative position may change, there still seems to remain a recognizable single bipolar factor underlying to at least some extent all political and social attitudes. Continuity seems much more evident than change.

This conclusion that there is a single general factor of social attitudes is very much in line with at least the earlier position of Wilson (40) and others but requires a number of qualifications, the major one of which is that any factor analysis and a variety of theory-based analyses will in fact show several orthogonal factors in any body of social attitude data. Can this contradiction be resolved?

It is easy enough to show theoretically that Kerlinger-type orthogonality (orthogonality between supposedly opposed radical and conservative halves of balanced scales) will be produced by the presence of acquiescent set (or style). The meaning or content of the items will tend to cause them to be responded to in opposite ways, while acquiescence will cause them to be responded to in similar ways (i.e. they will all tend to be responded to by "Agree"). The overall summation of such opposed tendencies must be a relationship of an intermediate kind, i.e., orthogonality. Possibly also Rorer's (37) dismissal of acquiescence as a serious distorting influence on attitude scale responses has been rather premature (27, 34). When acquiescence is controlled for experimentally, Kerlinger-type orthogonality may be replaced by a strong negative relationship (30).

One lacuna -- that there had been no demonstration that Kerlinger-type orthogonality was in fact associated with strong acquiescent responding -- has to some extent been filled by the present work. The method of measuring acquiescence effects adopted on the present occasion was taken from Martin (16) and in effect sidesteps the question posed by Rorer (37) as to whether acquiescence effects are general across scales. Instead, the simpler question of whether there is any generality of acquiescence within the given scale is asked. The present demonstration that the scale was almost as homogeneous when scored for acquiescence (alpha of .83) as when it was scored for content (an alpha of .89 for the 68-item Radicalism/conservatism scale) must surely dispel any doubts about the potential and actual importance of controlling for acquiescence where possible. Regardless of how much acquiescence is present, a balanced scale will always do this. Despite the problems of acquiescence, however, the subscales still showed highly meaningful and consistent relationships which in fact replicated closely previous findings in the area. In summary, then, even when acquiescence is not an overpowering influence it may have some effect in producing an artifactual orthogonality between radicalism and conservatism. It would, however, be naive to mistake the artifact for the real relationship. Generally (31, 40) radicalism and conservatism items do correlate highly negatively.

A much more important form of orthogonality to be found among attitude scale items is orthogonality between items in different content areas. As Ferguson showed (9), items expressing religious and moral conservatism tend to be orthogonal to items expressing conservatism in other fields. Eysenck (7) also finds this, but persists for his own reasons in identifying religious/moral items as "tough-minded." Lipset has also pointed out that economic conservatism is in a class of its own (15) and, although the finding is seldom one of complete orthogonality between economic and general social conservatism (19, 22), the relationship is at best weak. Special factors as well as the general factor, therefore, influence attitudes. For some purposes it may be useful to look for what is general across attitudes and for others it will be more useful either to exclude specific content areas or to consider them separately. There is certainly no "one true" structure of social attitudes, merely different structures that explain more or less of the common variance in more or less useful ways.

Any structure at all, however, cannot be justified from the data; the theoretically attractive structure which is the topic of the present paper is one of those that must be excluded. What, then, can replace this structure? How can we explain why political decisions and policies seem to vary in two dimensions (at least) when people's attitudes vary (generally or overall) only in one? It would seem that there is no choice but to revert to the Eysenck/Rokeach solution to this dilemma. Actions and behavior are affected not only by attitudes but also by personality.

In considering what the crucial variable or variables shall be here, however, it is essential to note why somewhat esoteric variables, such as Tough-mindedness, Psychoticism, and Dogmatism, have been suggested: they were all brought into use as a response to the difficulty of measuring either Leftist authoritarianism or ideologically nonpolarized authoritarianism. To this day no one seems to have had much success in finding items to express attitudes of these types [but see Ray (21 & 23)]. It has long been considered perfectly evident that many Leftists are in fact authoritarian (5), but selecting Leftist authoritarians seems to be something not easily achieved.

If we move from attitude to personality scales, however, there is no difficulty at all. A behavior inventory of interpersonal authoritarianism based on a conception of the authoritarian very similar to that which underlay the work of Adorno et al. ("Someone prone to behave as the Nazis did-in an aggressive, domineering and destructive way toward other people") does now exist. This scale -- the "Directiveness" scale (25, 32) -- has consistently and repeatedly shown no correlation with political party preference (25, 26) or even with measures of political ideology. It is in this respect much more successful than the Rokeach D scale which does in fact show a low but consistent tendency to attract higher scores from political Rightists (18). The Directiveness scale is then an authoritarianism scale on which some Leftists do get high scores. Whether such people are more prone to support extremist political measures and parties is, however, uncertain.

In summary, then, what the present research has shown is that even when items are specifically written to favor the emergence of an attitude dimension of libertarianism/authoritarianism and even when the subject population is chosen also to favor the emergence of such a dimension, the only dimension which is in fact evident is the traditional radicalism/ conservatism dimension. It is, then, only in the field of personality that an ideologically-neutral dimension of authoritarianism can be found. Since there is no difficulty in conceiving political actions as the outcome of both attitude and personality (among other things), this limitation may be relatively unimportant to a two-dimensional account of political behavior.


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School of Sociology, University of New South Wales, P.O. Box 1, Kensington, N.S.W., Australia 2033.

*Received in the Editorial Office, Provincetown, Massachusetts, on October 2, 1981, and given early publication by editorial decision. Copyright. 1982, by The Journal Press.


A short follow-up to this article can be found in the article below:

Ray, J.J. (1983) A scale to measure conservatism of American public opinion. Journal of Social Psychology 119, 293-294.

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