The Journal of Social Psychology, 1981, 115, 137-138.
THE POLITICS OF ACHIEVEMENT MOTIVATION*
University of New South Wales, Australia
JOHN J. RAY
Given the large volume of research on achievement motivation, it is somewhat surprising that the political correlates of the attribute should have received so little study. A study of political activists seems to be the sole published contribution (1). There does, nonetheless, seem to be a rather obvious possible relationship. As they are usually scored, measures of achievement motivation would seem to tap the sort of individualistic, materialistic, inequality-promoting striving that conservatives acclaim and liberals decry. Achieving eminence over one's fellows is certainly far from the Marxian dream of universal material equality.
Much, of course, does depend on the precise definition adopted for achievement motivation. Most published attempts at definition of the attribute are highly general --- general enough to encompass even destructive, antisocial, or revolutionary achievement. They are so general, in fact, that it is difficult to see what activities they would exclude. Why, for instance, is affiliation motivation scored separately? Is not having a circle of supportive friends an achievement?
The sorts of examples given in scoring manuals and the sorts of items used in self-report tests are, however, much more limited than the definitions would suggest; and it would appear that as it is normally scored, achievement motivation does connote the sort of materialistic Western individualism that is anathema to the socialist.
Because socialism does not appear to have broad popular support in the United States, the present hypothesis of an inverse relationship between socialism and achievement motivation was tested in three countries that do have major socialist political parties -- Australia, England, and Scotland. The samples were random cluster samples of Sydney, London, and Glasgow with Ns of 95, 100, and 100, respectively. See elsewhere (2) for details.
The scale used was the 28-item Ray-Lynn achievement motivation also described at length elsewhere (3). In each country respondents were asked what political party they would vote for if a national election were held tomorrow. Votes were scored simply "3" for the major conservative party, "1" for the major socialist party, and "2" for centrist parties. Extreme right and extreme left votes were very few and were combined with the conservative and socialist votes, respectively. On the basis of previous findings (4) the Scottish National Party was scored as a centrist party. "No preference" was also scored as a centrist vote.
The correlations between achievement motivation and vote observed were, then, .310 in Australia, .125 in England, and -.012 in Scotland. As only the Australian results conformed to the hypothesis, the U. K. data were dissected further by obtaining the mean n-Ach score for each voter group. The ts between these groups, however; were not significant. Conservative voters and Labor voters showed similar levels of achievement motivation.
It would appear that Australian voters are more likely to vote for the party that supports the way they actually behave than are British voters. This study has shown no tendency for Britons to live out what they claim to believe. British champions of equality are not apparently abashed at trying, themselves, to become "more equal than others."
1. Winter, D. G., & Wiecking, F. A. The new Puritans: Achievement and power motives of New Left intellectuals. Behav. Sci., 1971, 16, 523-530.
2. Ray, J.J. (1979) Authoritarianism in Australia, England and Scotland. Journal of Social Psychology 108, 271-272.
3. Ray, J.J. (1979) A quick measure of achievement motivation -- validated in Australia and reliable in Britain and South Africa. Australian Psychologist 14, 337-344. Also: Ray, J.J. (1980) The comparative validity of Likert, projective and forced-choice indices of achievement motivation. J. Social Psychology, 111, 63-72.
4 Ray, J.J. (1978) Are Scottish nationalists authoritarian and conservative? European J. Political Research 6, 411-418.
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