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The Journal of Social Psychology, 1982, 117, 297-298.

CLIMATE AND CONSERVATISM IN AUSTRALIA



University of New South Wales, Australia

JOHN J. RAY

There is a stereotype of the American "Deep South" as particularly conservative. It also seems to be roughly true that the further South one goes in Europe, the greater is the proclivity for fascist governments. Hitler had his base in the southern German state of Bavaria. Such trends suggest that a warmer climate may in some way predispose people to authoritarianism and conservatism. In both Europe and the United States there are too many other potentially confounding factors to make a proper examination of any such association possible. In Australia, however, this may not be so. Queensland, the state nearest to the equator is in fact commonly referred to in Australia as "The Deep North" because it is thought to be more racist, authoritarian, and conservative (1) than southern Australia.

A comparison is made of attitudes in Brisbane, Queensland and in the more southerly Sydney, in the state of New South Wales. Both states originated as British penal colonies, have never been at war with each other, have a similar mix of racial origins, and have, in general, similar histories. Any differences between them should therefore represent a fairly well-controlled experiment. The one major apparent difference between the two states, other than in climate, is the fact that Queensland is more decentralized or rural. In order to control for this difference, only the populations in Brisbane and Sydney, the capital cities, are compared.

Scales to measure economic, moral, and general social conservatism were combined in a questionnaire with a new 30-item version of the Ray (2) "Directiveness" scale for measuring authoritarianism (defined as "the desire or tendency to impose one's own will on others") (3). Seven hundred questionnaires were posted to addresses in Queensland and 500 to addresses in New South Wales. Addresses were randomly selected from the electoral rolls. Voter registration was at that time (1979) in Australia compulsory for all adult citizens and even for many noncitizens. The return rate for both states was 31 %. There were 98 respondents living in Sydney and 104 living in Brisbane.

The reliabilities of the scales (alpha) on the combined two-city sample were as follows: Social conservatism .77; Moral conservatism .83; Economic conservatism .73; Directiveness .87. The demographic structure of the Sydney sample (on age, sex, education, and occupation) closely approximated that found in contemporaneous random doorstep samples gathered in the same city. The Sydney and Brisbane respondents did not differ significantly on mean age, economic conservatism, or Directiveness. Nor did they show significantly different proportions of the sexes or of manual versus nonmanual workers. They differed on mean education (t = 3.6), social conservatism (2.6), and moral conservatism (3.8). In both samples authoritarians were found to be permissive on moral issues and anti-socialist on economic issues. The rs for the combined sample were -.28 and .23.

The lesser education of Brisbane people is hard to explain in terms of the usual factors. Availability of education and mean real personal disposable income could hardly be more equal in the two states. It could be that the enervating effect of a warmer climate makes the motivation and dedication needed for undertaking higher levels of education harder to sustain. The present results, then, have not only confirmed that people from warmer climates may be more conservative but have suggested a major mediating factor for the effect. That economic conservatism did not show a similar trend is consistent with Lipset's contention (4) that conservatism in this field is determined more by "hip pocket" issues than by general world-view.

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1. Thomas, D. R. The relationship between ethnocentrism and conservatism in an "authoritarian" culture. J. Soc. Psychol., 1974, 94, 179-186.

2. Ray, J.J. (1976) Do authoritarians hold authoritarian attitudes? Human Relations, 29, 307-325.

3. Ray, J.J. (1981) Authoritarianism, dominance and assertiveness. Journal of Personality Assessment 45, 390-397. Other details, including the items of the conservatism scales, can be found in Ray, J.J. (1983) The workers are not authoritarian: Attitude and personality data from six countries. Sociology & Social Research, 67 (2), 166-189.

4 Lipset, S. M. Political Man. New York: Doubleday, 1960. See particularly the chapter on working class authoritarianism.




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