Australian & New Zealand J. Sociology, Vol. 12, No. 3, October, 1976. pp. 255-257.

(With three post-publication addenda following the original article)


J. J. Ray

University of New South Wales


R. S. Wilson

Roy Morgan Research Centre


The study of conservatism reported below is intended to be of both parametric and theoretical interest. Its first aim is to provide Australia-wide norms for a wide variety of social questions, i.e., how conservative are Australians at the present time on social issues? The second aim is to determine just what are the major correlates of social conservatism. For instance, is it associated with disturbed personality, as Adorno et al (1950) concluded, or is it correlated with manual occupation, as Lipset (1960) claimed? One has no reason to be certain that any relationships of this kind reported overseas will be faithfully mirrored in the responses of Australians.

Also included in the study were a wide variety of other demographic and attitudinal measures which will hopefully cast some light on just who the 'social conservatives' in Australia are. In particular, a separate scale to measure economic conservatism was included, necessitated by Lipset's (1960) claim that economic conservatism is determined by criteria different from criteria determining conservatism in other areas [1].


Attitude statements concerning aspects of social conservatism were included in a lifestyle attitude survey conducted annually by the research firm, Roy Morgan Research Centre. The survey, named 'Social Barometer', is designed for self-completion and relies on respondents to mail back completed questionnaires. The questionnaire is placed at the door with respondents taking part in the weekly Morgan Gallup Poll survey. The sampling method used for the Morgan Gallup Poll is randomised cluster sampling. This involves collecting interviews from a cluster of ten adjacent households at 110 randomly selected starting points throughout Australia. Interviews are conducted with people aged 14 years and over. During the course of six weeks interviewing, 6,600 interviews were conducted and 6,200 Social Barometer questionnaires were accepted by the interview respondents, representing a 94 per cent acceptance rate. A series of incentives and follow-ups, in conjunction with the interesting nature of the questionnaire, resulted in a 73 per cent usable response rate to this study, which represented 69 per cent of all respondents interviewed in the original personal interview. The total N for this study is hence 4,554. Returns from the mail-return survey closely approximated the demographic structure of the master sample, and hence the Australian population.


The social conservatism items were found to form a satisfactory scale with a reliability (coefficient 'alpha') of .84. They are listed in Table 1, together with a full range of distributional information on each item. When the 15 items are treated as a scale, the scale mean becomes 45.38 -- which is almost exactly at the theoretical midpoint of 45.00, and indicates that Australians are neither characteristically 'conservative' nor characteristically 'radical' on this sample of social issues, but are split almost down the middle. However, this is an overall picture only, and there is considerable variability in the response to individual attitude items [2].

One area that is of quite topical interest in the present study was the relationship between 'radicalism' on traditional social issues and 'radicalism' on environmental issues such as pollution. A short 'pollution-consciousness' scale was included in the survey, and its correlation with the social conservatism scale was -.157. Although the relationship was in the expected direction and was statistically significant, it was low enough to indicate that the two variables should be kept separate in future research in this area. One is tempted to interpret the result as indicating that 'traditional radicals' ( ! ) and 'trendy radicals' are not birds of a feather [3].

One of the personality scales used in the survey was a scale to measure risk-taking. While providing little more than concurrent validation of a conservatism scale, it did show whether or not conservatism in one's social attitudes was also associated with conservatism in one's own life-style. Since psychologists have long learned to distrust assumptions about the relationship between attitudes and behaviour, the inclusion of some check on this relationship seemed to be necessary [4]. The correlation between the, two scales (-.352), indicated substantial validity for the social conservatism scale, and showed that conservative attitudes do tend to go together with cautious and unadventurous life-styles. ('Partialling out' the common effect of age from the correlation between risk-taking and conservatism reduces it to -.249, which is still substantial).

Another scale enquiring into life-style was the 'familism' scale. The object of this scale was to obtain a measure of the extent to which one remains closely associated with one's family group rather than seeking independence. Like the 'alienation' scale, it is a measure of one sort of social integration -- though of opposite polarity, but its correlation with the alienation scale (-.177) was slight. It was hypothesized that dissatisfaction with one's family life (particularly dissatisfaction caused by conflict) might be a potent source of radicalism, so a positive correlation with the social conservatism scale was expected. However, the correlation observed was .163, which made dissatisfaction with one's family one of the minor correlates of social radicalism.

Another area examined was the relationship between social mobility and conservatism, and the method adopted to measure social mobility on this occasion was rather novel. Usually mobility is measured simply by taking some single measure of one's status several years ago and comparing it with one's status now, but in this survey several questions were asked around this theme and the resultant answers were summed to give a single social mobility 'score'. This procedure in effect scales a social variable (cf. Ray, 1971, where the same procedure was profitably adopted for subjective class). The reliability obtained was .72. The relationship with social conservatism was -.225 and with economic conservatism, .160, which indicates, as expected, that upwardly mobile people are somewhat conservative where their own economic interests are involved but which also indicates -- as was not expected -- that on other issues they are radical. We are led to conclude that the experience of success on one's own part makes one more permissively disposed towards others.

As well as measuring achieved (objective) social mobility, the survey also made provision for measuring (subjective) orientation towards upward mobility. Many authors (see Featherman, 1971; Costello, 1967) have suggested that achievement motivation should be divided into 'extrinsic' and 'intrinsic' motivation. For example, one man does a job well because of the praise and status that it will give him, while the other does it well just for the sake of the satisfaction that any job successfully executed gives him. It was extrinsic orientation -- desire for success as a high-road to social approval and prestige -- which was measured in the present survey. However, since only five items were devoted to this purpose, the reliability of the 'Social success orientation' scale is low (.50). Its correlation with upward mobility was .284. In the case of both social and economic conservatism, the subjective index was less strongly related to conservatism than was the objective index, possibly because of its lesser reliability.

A final hypothesis examined the relationship between conservatism and the Protestant Ethic. Mirels and Garrett (1971) claimed that there is a relationship between them, but they failed to distinguish between the two demonstrably different categories of conservatism (social and economic) which have been used in this study. Again, for reasons of space limitation, an index had to be devised which would consist of only a few items. For this reason, it was decided to concentrate purely on the economic aspects of the Protestant Ethic, and a group of items were used which concentrated on the orientation towards hard work and frugality which was supposed to be characteristic of traditional Protestantism. The scale comprised six items, with a reliability of .56, and it was found -- most surprisingly --not to correlate at all with economic conservatism (r = .001), but quite highly with social conservatism (r = .356). This confirms the association between the Protestant Ethic and conservatism as ideologies, but indicates that the Protestant Ethic is not characteristically associated with preference for, or rejection of, government involvement in the economy.


As far as the issues examined here are concerned, the profile which emerges of the 'social conservative' in Australia is of someone who is older, more imbued with the Protestant Ethic, more likely to be a Liberal-Country Party voter, and slightly more family-oriented. He is less well-educated, less of a risk-taker in his personal life, slightly less pollution-conscious and less upwardly mobile. He is not particularly likely to be working-class, more neurotic, more ambitious, or less alienated, and he makes up almost exactly half of the population. 'He' is equally likely to be a 'she' and he or she is only slightly against government involvement in the economy.


1. Details of the economic conservatism scale can be obtained from the authors.
2. Correlations between this social conservatism scale and demographic variables are included in a table which can be obtained from the authors.
3. The reliability of the pollution-consciousness scale was relatively low, perhaps because it was a short scale. Details of the scale are available from the senior author.
4. The items of the risk-taking scale are available from the senior author.


Adorno, T. et al. (1950) The Authoritarian Personality. New York: Harper.

Costello, C. A. (1967) 'Two scales to measure achievement motivation'. Journal of Psychology, 66:231-235.

Cronbach, L. J. (1951) 'Coefficient alpha and the internal structure of tests'. Psychometrika, 16:297-334.

Featherman, D. L. (1971) 'The socio-economic achievement of white religio-ethnic sub-groups: Social and psychological explanations'. American Sociological Review, 36:207-222.

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

Mirels, H. L., and J. Garrett (1971) 'The Protestant Ethic as a personality variable'. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 36:40-44.

Ray, J.J. (1971) The questionnaire measurement of social class. Australian & New Zealand J. Sociology 7(April), 58-64.

Wilson, G. D., and J. Patterson (1968) 'A new measure of conservatism'. British Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 7:264-269.

TABLE 1 -- The Social Conservatism Inventory*


1. Youth and their values. R...........................................3.12......1.05
2. Moves to liberalise abortion. R...................................3.28......1.31
3. Moves to tighten censorship.......................................2.92......1.23
4. Moves to legalise homosexuality. R............................2.72......1.20
5. Death penalty for committing murder..........................3.41......1.30
6. Stricter moral training for children...............................3.78......1.05
7. Easier availability of birth control pills. R....................3.59......1.19
8. Would you be upset if a person of another race
married your son or daughter?........................................2.70......1.20
9. Do you object to the idea of pre-marital sex?..............2.80......1.42
10. Do you live by traditional beliefs and values?...........3.22......1.20
11. I really think that long hair on men looks pathetic.....2.99......1.40
12. It's a very good thing that social attitudes are
generally becoming more liberalised. R..........................3.67......1.05
13. I am against sex before marriage as a matter of
14. I think that the traditional values and beliefs are
best for the society..........................................................3.20......1.70
15. There needs to be stricter control on pornographic
material in this country.....................................................3.73......1.30

* All items are scored from 5 to 1. For items 1 to 7, the response options are from 'Strongly in favour' (scored `5') to 'strongly against' (cf. Wilson & Patterson, 1968 for another use of this format). Items 8 to 10 have responses 'Yes emphatically' (5) to 'No emphatically' (1), while items 9 to 15 have responses 'Strongly agree' (5) to 'Strongly Disagree'. A midpoint is allowed in all cases. The reliability -- Cronbach's 'alpha' (1951) -- of the 15 items treated as a single scale is .84. For scaling purposes, the items marked 'R' are reverse scored (1 for 'Strongly agree' etc.). The item statistics given in this Table, however, do not embody any reversals. The scale mean was 45.36 with a Standard Deviation of 10.42.


1). Table 1 above is slightly more detailed in the printed version of this article. Response percentages for each item are given.

2). More scale items:


(Reliability .84; Mean 47.77; S.D. 8.89)

1. Generally we don't all have meals at the same time in our family. R
2. Our family discuss a lot of things together.
3. We usually go out together at least once a week in our family.
4. I care about my family above everything else.
5. Our family has always been a close-knit family.
6. I am very proud of my family.
7. Members of our family have tended to grow away from one another. R
8. We're not as close as we used to be in our family. R
9, Our family does a lot of things together.
10. We always co-operate with one another in our family.
11. Family life can be terribly dull and boring. R
12. I sometimes feel like a stranger in my family. R
13. Family life these days is not what it used to be.


(Reliability .53; Mean 23.49; S.D. 4.26)

1. I try to do something different every day.
2. I like to follow instructions and do what is expected of me. R
3. I often do things on whims and fancies.
4. I often just rush out and do things.
5. I like to experience novelty and change.
6. I have favourite brands for most grocery items and I tend to stick to them. R
7. I generally buy the same kind of car each time I get a new one R.
8. I am always ready to try new and different products which come onto the market.


(Reliability .72; Mean 19.84; S. D. 5.65)

1. I can afford to buy more luxuries today than I could five years ago.
2. The main breadwinner will probably have a better position in his job in two year's time than he has now.
3. I have moved in the last five years or intend to move to a better suburb in the near future.
4. My social position seems to be improving every year.
5. In the last five years the income of the main breadwinner in my family has about doubled or more than doubled.
6. In the next three years I expect the main breadwinner's income to at least rise by about half of what it is now.
7. The main breadwinner in my family has had good job promotions in the last five years.


(Reliability .50; Mean 14.78; S.D. 3.31)

1. I tend to be a leader and organizer among my friends.
2. My friends value my opinions greatly.
3. Most people would say that I was ambitious.
4. If a person gets to the top in his profession, he is entitled to give himself special privileges and status symbols.
5. I often think about being more successful than I am at present.

ECONOMIC CONSERVATISM SCALE (Perhaps better referred to as a "Socialism" scale)

(Reliability .82; Mean 41.14; S.D. 9.84)

"Am satisfied with"

1. Existing levels of foreign ownership of Australian industry.
2. The housing and land situation.

"Am in favour of":

3. Moves to control poverty in Australia. R
4. Increased government spending on pensions and other social service payments. R
5. Moves towards government control of the health insurance schemes. R
6. Greater control of the unions by the government.
7. Power for the Federal government to control prices. R
8. Power for the Federal government to control incomes. R
9. A free dental service provided by the government. R
10. Government control of the big industries such as steel. R
11. Higher rate of taxation on the large income earner. R
12. Government power to control big businesses and monopolies. R


13. Is Australia ready for the 35 hour working week for everyone? R
14. I wouldn't mind doing away with monopolies and big businesses. R
15. Big business monopolies are a menace to a democratic society. R

3). The data for this study were gathered in 1973 so I was pleasantly surprised to find that I still had the master table of correlations from it 30 years later. As it is a large table I will not attempt to reproduce it in full here but the following correlations may be of some interest: Economic and social conservatism correlated .125; Eysenck's (1958) Neuroticism scale correlated -.094 with economic conservatism, -.114 with social conservatism, .041 with intended vote in a Federal election, .167 with risk-taking, .264 with alienation and -.269 with familism. So family-oriented people tended to be stable and alienated people tended to be neurotic. And there was no sign here of the emotional problems still being attributed to conservatives by psychologists (e.g. Kossowska & Van Hiel, 2003; Jost et al., 2003)

The correlates of the Social Success orientation scale may also be of some interest. It correlated .107 with economic conservatism, -.077 with social conservatism and .045 with intended vote in a Federal election. The implication is that personal ambition does not carry over into political attitudes. One would have thought that the Leftist passion for equality would have caused the statements in this scale to be regarded as anathema by Leftists but it was not so. Orwell's "some pigs are more equal than others" philosophy would seem to be alive and well among Australian Leftists. As a very short scale, the Success-orientation scale showed a reliability that would not normally be regarded as acceptable so results obtained with it can only be accepted with confidence in conjunction with similar results from other studies using more reliable measures but such confirmation is in fact available in this case. See Ray & Najman (1988) for a detailed examination of this (non) relationship.

Preferred political party in a Federal election (scored 5 to 1 from Right to Left) showed generally negligible correlations with other variables except for conservatism. It correlated .560 with economic conservatism and .219 with social conservatism. Voters for the DLP and the conservative coalition definitely did not like socialism!

It should not be assumed, however, that the correlations with vote are fixed for all time. See particularly Addendum 5 here in that connection. Comparing the findings of the 1970 study reported in Ray (1973 & 1984b) with the findings of the present 1973 study and the early 1980s findings reported in (Ray, 1984a) shows the gradually but steadily increasing importance of social conservatism in influencing Australian voting over little more than one particular decade. What is politically significant varies over time.

Note also that the results in Ray (1984a) show that the relationship between conservatism and intended vote in a Federal election even varies between contemporaneous samples taken in different Australian States. One could also perhaps allude to Kossowska & Van Hiel's (2003) finding concerning the correlation between "need for closure" and conservatism in contemporaneous samples taken in Belgium and Poland. In that study, "need for closure" was found to be LEFTIST in one country and RIGHTIST in the other! All this variability clearly undermines the simplistic but widespread notion (e.g. Altemeyer, 1981) that conservatism is nothing more than a monolithic, unvarying "opposition to change".

The low to negligible correlations between economic conservatism and conservatism in other areas observed in both the study above and in the 1970 study would also seem to be hard to explain by such a notion.


Altemeyer, R. (1981). Right-wing authoritarianism. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.

Eysenck, H.J. (1958) A short questionnaire for the measurement of two dimensions of personality. J. Applied Psychology, 42, 14-17.

Jost, J.T., Glaser, J., Kruglanski, A.W., & Sulloway, F.J. (2003). Political conservatism as motivated social cognition. Psychological Bulletin, 129(3), 339-375.

Kossowska, M. & Van Hiel, A. (2003) The Relationship Between Need for Closure and Conservative Beliefs in Western and Eastern Europe. Political Psychology 24 (3) 501.

Ray, J.J. (1973) Dogmatism in relation to sub-types of conservatism: Some Australian data. European J. Social Psychology 3, 221-232

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

Ray, J.J. (1984b) Combining demographic and attitude variables to predict vote. Journal of Social Psychology, 122, 145-146.

Ray, J.J. & Najman, J.M. (1988) Capitalism and compassion: A test of Milbrath's environmental theory. Personality & Individual Differences 9, 431-433.

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