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The Journal of Social Psychology, Volume 123, Second Half, August 1984. Pp. 195-198.

Socialist Tendencies Among Conservatives in Australia



JOHN J. RAY

School of Sociology, University of New South Wales, Australia

ABSTRACT: Lipset's theory of "working class authoritarianism" postulates that working class people are conservative but vote for Leftist parties out of economic self-interest. Data from a sample of 111 Australian Army conscripts showed high scorers on a form of Wilson's Conservatism scale heavily favoring the Australian Labor Party rather than rejecting it. "Labor" (socialist) voters were, however, shown to be low scorers on a separate scale of economic conservatism. Lipset's theory thus explains some initially very surprising findings.


WHEN HE OR SHE IS ASKED to vote, a citizen in one of the Western democracies must choose between two or more alternatives. When social scientists study the correlates of political party preference by way of surveys, they therefore also customarily ask their respondents to make such a choice. To do so, however, involves the questionable assumption that people who like party A thereby also dislike party B. What could be the most common situation -- that the respondent dislikes both parties but one slightly more than the other -- cannot really be examined if we use the conventional voting method of gathering data. The present study was therefore designed to examine the effect of less restrictive assumptions in the measurement of political party preference. The theory chosen for examination was Lipset's theory (1) that vote is determined more by economic conservatism than by general ideology. One reason this theory was chosen was the contradictory nature of the existing findings concerning it (6).

Method

The scale adopted as a measure of general ideology was the Wilson (7) Conservatism scale (C-scale). What this scale measures seems very close to Lipset's description of working class ideology, and Wilson himself describes the scale as measuring authoritarianism. The distinctive feature of the scale is its "catchphrase" format. Instead of an item being worded something like "The death penalty should be brought back for certain crimes," it is worded simply as "Death penalty." The respondent then simply answers "Yes," "?," or "No." Wilson claims that the short format attracts truer immediate emotional responses than the more conventional format. As the scale has shown some internal consistency problems when used with Australian respondents (5), it was used on the present occasion in an "Australian" revised form (3).

The scale measuring economic conservatism was an especially written set of items in the same format as the C-scale. There appears to be no previous instance of a purely economic conservatism scale in this format.

Included among the items of these two attitude scales were two other items worded simply: "The Liberal Party" and "The Labor Party." These are the two major parties of Australian politics, with the former being, in spite of its name, a quite conservative party while the Labor party is avowedly socialist. It was, therefore, perfectly possible for respondents to say "No" (or "Yes") to both major choices in Australian politics. They could also, of course, in each case respond with "?."

The questionnaire was administered in 1969 to 111 Australian Army conscripts at the Kapooka camp. Such conscripts at the time were selected by a random birthdate ballot procedure from the entire population of male 18-year-olds with no exemptions. Students could have their "call-up" deferred until they had completed their first degree but were not exempted. The sample should, therefore, have been much more representative in socioeconomic and intellectual terms than the more usual sample of students.

Results

The reliability (alpha) of the C-scale was .84. To construct an economic conservatism scale, 36 items were available. By the usual criterion of item-total correlations (4), 18 of these were rejected. This left an 18-item scale with a reliability of .57. This reliability is disappointing and suggests that too few items were available for scale construction purposes. A listing of the items in both scales can be found elsewhere (2).

As a preliminary analysis of the relationships in the data, product-moment correlations were calculated. Attitude toward the two political parties correlated only - .56, confirming that attitude to the one was indeed far from being a simple mirror-image of attitude to the other. Neither scale predicted attitude to either party at the .O5 level.

The major analysis of the data was carried out by a nonparametric discriminant function analysis technique. A full set of the tables yielded by this analysis is available elsewhere (2). Attitude toward the Labor (socialist) party yielded more significant predictions than attitude toward the "Liberal" (conservative) party. If a person was both high to medium on general conservatism and low to medium on economic conservatism, he was very likely to favor the Labor (socialist) party. People who were ideologically very conservative tended to say "Yes" more than "No" to the Leftist party! The results are summarized in Table 1. The line of greatest


TABLE 1

Respondents Answering "Yes" or "No" to "The Labor Party" by Conservatism Scale Scores

........................................................General ideological conservatism


Economic conservatism.........Low...............................Medium......................High

....................................................................."No" response


Low...........................................5....................................1................................3
...........................................============||
Medium......................................8.................||..................3................................6
.....................................................................||===================||
High...........................................7......................................0.....................||........7


....................................................................."Yes" response

Low...........................................9.....................................2..............................8
...........................................============||
Medium.....................................5..................||...................5...........................15
.....................................................................||==================||
High..........................................4......................................0....................||.......11


discrimination between those who said "No" and "Yes" to the Labor party is marked heavily in both the upper and lower parts of the table. It marks the maximum separation of frequencies (when converted to percentages) between the upper and lower halves of the Table. Aggregating all frequencies above or below the line gives a 2 x 2 table with a chi square of 33.4 (p < .01). Twelve respondents who answered "?" to the Labor party have been omitted. For the purposes of tabulation, scores on each of the conservatism scales were trichotomized in terms of their possible range. No attempt was made, in other words, to keep the numbers of high, medium, and low scorers artificially equal.

Discussion

The results shown in Table 1 represent a significant confirmation of what Lipset's theory predicts. This is in some contrast to the results of the simple correlational analysis. Without a careful analysis of the two scales considered together and attitude toward the two parties considered separately, it might have falsely been concluded that Lipset's theory was not supported.

An interesting contrast in Table 1 appears in the 50 respondents who scored in the top third of the possible range of scores on the C-scale. More than two-thirds of these "highly conservative" respondents said "Yes" to the Labor party rather than "No" (34 vs 16 respondents), a highly unexpected finding in the context of what is more usually found. It seems to suggest that the socialist party is more conservative than the conservative party. Why should the highly conservative tend to approve of a Leftist party? Lipset's theory provides an answer. Lipset sees working class people as Left-voting conservatives. We might therefore conclude that there was a strong preponderance of working class people in the sample. Unfortunately, demographic data that might have enabled a direct check on this inference were not collected.

Extensive evidence has, however, been presented elsewhere to show that although the workers are not in fact authoritarian in personality, they are on at least some issues more authoritarian and conservative in attitudes (6). The strength of the relationship between conservatism and class is not, however, great enough to preclude explanations of the present findings in terms of other theories than Lipset's.

REFERENCES

1. Lipset, S. M. Political Man. New York: Doubleday, 1960.

2. Ray, J. J. Authoritarianism and working-class ideology. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation submitted in the School of Behavioral Sciences of Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, 1972.

3. Ray, J.J. (1972) Are conservatism scales irreversible? British J. Social & Clinical Psychology 11, 346-352.

4. Ray, J.J. (1972) A new reliability maximization procedure for Likert scales. Australian Psychologist 7, 40-46.

5. Ray, J.J. (1980) Acquiescence and the Wilson Conservatism scale. Personality & Individual Differences, 1, 303-305.

6. Ray, J.J. (1983) The workers are not authoritarian: Attitude and personality data from six countries. Sociology & Social Research, 67 (2), 166-189.

7. Wilson, G. D. The Psychology of Politics. London: Academic, 1973.


Received August 13, 1983

The assistance of Jenny Ross in arranging for the administration of the questionnaire is gratefully acknowledged.




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