Personality & Individual Differences, 1990, 11, 187-189.


J. J. Ray

University of New South Wales


Nine random general population surveys from Australia, two from California and one each from Germany and South Africa are listed in which either a racism or a conservatism scale was administered. The correlations of the scales suggest that people in manual occupations are not especially conservative but are quite likely to be prejudiced against some racial groups (not including Australian Aborigines). Using education as a class indicator, similar results are obtained for racism but not for conservatism. In five out of the nine studies listed, less educated people tended to be more conservative.

The recent rise to prominence in the psychology literature of meta-analyses would seem to suggest that psychologists are increasingly concluding that large bodies of data are needed to test hypotheses and that reliance on a single experiment or survey is increasingly being seen as less than ideal. Given the many chance or uncontrollable factors that can influence the outcome of psychological research, such a conclusion is hard to dispute. In line with that view, therefore, it is proposed to present in the present paper, not quite a meta-analysis but rather a collation of all the results from a variety of surveys on the same or related topics that the present author has carried out over a period of many years. Many of the results from the surveys concerned have already been reported in the journal literature but the results have been varied and it would seem that more reliable conclusions might be reached by looking at all the results together rather than by considering the results of any particular survey.

The theoretical background to the various surveys was the well-known theory of Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson & Sanford (1950) to the effect that racism and conservatism are intimately associated as part of an overall maladjustment syndrome called "authoritarianism". Lipset (1960) accepted this view and added a further covariate to the syndrome -- authoritarianism was said also to be "working-class". Lipset's contentions formed the foundations of a now historic debate that has recently been reviewed elsewhere (See Ray, 1983a & 1985a) so it would be superfluous to review it again here. Suffice it to say that both authoritarianism and conservatism have been shown to have only the most weak and fitful association with social class indices in many empirical studies around the world. The same, however, cannot be said of racism. In random samples of the community at large, racism and conservatism are at best only weakly associated (Ray, 1981b & 1984c) so we must not be misled by Adorno et al (1950) into expecting that if the workers are not conservative then they should not be racist either. It is quite possible to be one without the other. Particularly from the extensive studies in the U.S.A. by Grabb (1979 & 1980) there is some warrant for believing that there may be some truth in the Lipset thesis as far as racism is concerned -- particularly if we define "working class" in terms of lesser education. (See also Lipsitz, 1965). The workers may be only occasionally more conservative but they may be fairly reliably more racist.

It cannot, however, be assumed that U.S. findings are highly generalizable. The U.S.A. is in some ways a unique country and what holds true there might be different in even apparently similar countries such as Britain and Australia. One very good reason why things may not be the same in Australia is that "racism" in Australia does not seem to be a unitary entity. It has been shown that Australians' attitude to Aborigines (blacks) are only weakly predictive of their attitudes towards (for instance) immigrants (Ray, 1974, Ch. 46; Ray & Lovejoy, 1986). Even if it is true that Australian working class people tend to dislike Aborigines, it would not follow that they should also by the same token dislike immigrants. The association between class and racial attitudes could well be more complex in Australia than it is in the U.S.A. It is the aim of the present paper to set out the findings on what the association in fact is.


In the ten years between 1973 and 1983 the present author carried out a series of surveys wherein either racism or conservatism was studied using Australian general population samples. On all occasions data on occupation and education were also gathered for each respondent. Additionally, there were two studies carried out in California and one each in South Africa and West Germany. These provide some additional international comparisons. At least some results from all of the surveys have previously been published but the correlations of interest here often have not been. Since methodological details (sampling etc.) have all been published previously, the presentation of results here will be primarily tabular. References are given to enable checking the methodology behind each relationship tabulated but since all the data emanate from random general population samples, method variability should have little role in explaining the results. All associations in the Table are indexed by Pearson r.



In the three Australian samples on which racial attitudes were studied (See Table 1), it may be noted that Attitude to Asians and attitude to Southern European immigrants both correlated reasonably strongly with occupation. Attitude to Aborigines was different. It was not predicted by occupation. What this means is that people in manual occupations would tend to agree that "Asians are taking over the place" and that "Italians work too hard" and the like. They would not however tend to agree that "Aborigines are lazy" and the like.

In the three non-Australian samples, the results were also mixed. Only in South Africa did manual workers tend to be more prejudiced than non-manual workers.

Using education as the class index, a similar pattern of results is observed. Less educated Australians tend to dislike Asians and immigrants but not Aborigines (blacks).


The Australian results with conservatism (See Table 1) are remarkably uniform. On only two occasions is the association between conservatism and occupation predicted by Lipset (1960) to be found -- and the association on those two occasions (rs of -.147 and -.057) is significant only by virtue of relatively large Ns. In general, then, there was no particular tendency for manual workers to agree with such statements as "Treason and murder should be punishable by death" or "Erotic and obscene literature should be prohibited from public sale" or " People who want more money should work harder for it instead of trying to get it off the government in one way or another".

With education as the class indicator, however, it is a different story. With five out of the eight samples we find that less educated Australians do tend to agree with statements such as the three exemplified above. From this, we should probably conclude that there is some tendency for less educated people to be more conservative.

In the California sample, however, no class indicator predicted conservatism. This is at some variance with what Lipsitz (1965) and Grabb (1979 & 1980) found in the United States and may therefore have something to do with the different scales used.


Overall, then, the class correlates of attitudes in Australia would seem to be fairly similar to the situation in the U.S.A. The only proviso is that attitude to Aborigines seems to be in a category of its own. This may have something to do with guilt felt by white Australians over having "stolen" the Aborigine's country.

The idea (Adorno et al, 1950) that racial attitudes from part of a unitary "ethnocentric" personality would, however, seem to be called into question by the findings. Racial attitudes in Australia seem to vary in accordance with the prejudice object rather than being the consistent expression of a prejudiced personality. See also Ray & Lovejoy (1986) in this connection.

The present results do therefore constitute yet another demonstration that the Adorno et al theory is simplistic and misleading. It might seem superfluous to have demonstrated it yet again but the theory still receives frequent uncritical and approving mention in the literature so such demonstrations do presumably still have their place.


Adorno,T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. & Sanford, R.N. (1951) The authoritarian personality. N.Y.: Harper.

Grabb, E.G. (1979) Working class authoritarianism and tolerance of outgroups: A reassessment. Public Opinion Quart. 43, 36-47.

Grabb, E.G. (1980) Social class, authoritarianism and racial contact: recent trends. Sociology & Social Res. 64, 208-220.

Lipset, S.M. (1960) Political man N.Y.: Doubleday.

Lipsitz, L. (1965) Working class authoritarianism: A re-evaluation. Amer. Sociological Rev 30, 103-109.

Ray, J.J. (1974) Conservatism as heresy Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co.

Ray, J.J. (1980a) Racism and authoritarianism among white South Africans. Journal of Social Psychology, 110, 29-37.

Ray, J.J. (1980b) Authoritarianism in California 30 years later -- with some cross-cultural comparisons. Journal of Social Psychology, 111, 9-17.

Ray, J.J. (1981a) The new Australian nationalism. Quadrant, 25(1-2), 60-62.

Ray, J.J. (1981b) Explaining Australian attitudes towards Aborigines Ethnic & Racial Studies 4, 348-352.

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

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

Ray, J.J. (1984) Attitude to abortion, attitude to life and conservatism in Australia. Sociology & Social Research 68, 236-246.

Ray, J.J. & Kiefl, W. (1984b) Authoritarianism and achievement motivation in contemporary West Germany. Journal of Social Psychology, 122, 3-19.

Ray, J.J. (1984c). Half of all racists are Left-wing. Political Psychology, 5, 227-236.

Ray, J.J. (1984d) Achievement motivation as a source of racism, conservatism and authoritarianism. Journal of Social Psychology 123, 21-28

Ray, J.J. (1984e) Measuring trait anxiety in general population samples. Journal of Social Psychology, 123, 189-193.

Ray, J.J. (1985) Using multiple class indicators to examine working class ideology. Personality & Individual Differences 6, 557-562.

Ray, J.J. (1985b) Defective validity in the Altemeyer authoritarianism scale. Journal of Social Psychology 125, 271-272.

Ray, J.J. & Lovejoy, F.H. (1986). The generality of racial prejudice. Journal of Social Psychology, 126, 563-564.

Ray, J.J. & Wilson, R.S. (1976) Social conservatism in Australia. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Sociology 12(3), 255-257.

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