Personality & Individual Differences, 1985, 6 (5), 557-562.



Sociology, University of New South Wales, P.O. Box 1, Kensington, 2033 NSW, Australia

(Received 14 January 1985)


Eysenck showed that working-class supporters of any particular political party tended to be more conservative than middle-class supporters of the same party. Lipset has put forward the more ambitious thesis that working-class people in general are more authoritarian and conservative than middle-class people (except on economic issues). Existing evidence for the Lipset thesis suggests at best weak support for it with a lot depending on the particular scales used and the particular class index used. A comprehensive study is therefore presented in which six scales of conservatism, two scales of authoritarianism and political party preference are correlated with five social-class indices. Ss were a community sample of 203 Australians. Significant correlations were sparse and of low magnitude with working-class people tending to be radical rather than conservative on non-economic issues. Authoritarians also tended to be middle class rather than lower class. There were however two weak correlations with education in the direction predicted by Lipset.


Eysenck (1954) studied the relationship between social class and ideology by tabulating scores on his 'R' scale for the supporters of the major British political parties. He found that within each group of party supporters, the more working-class ones were more conservative than the more middle-class ones. A working-class Labour voter, for instance, was found to be in general more conservative than a middle-class Labour voter.

Lipset (1960) followed with a very similar thesis. He claimed that working-class people in general (i.e. regardless of political leanings) were more conservative than middle-class people. While this represented some simplification of the Eysenck proposals, Lipset also added a complication. He said that his generalization applied to non-economic conservatism only. Where Eysenck had used only one scale to measure conservatism, Lipset's proposals called for at least two scales to be used.

Subsequent support for the notion of working-class ideology has been patchy. Most of it has recently been summarized elsewhere (Ray, 1983) so need not be repeated here. Suffice it to say that in some studies economic conservatism has been found to be little related to conservatism of other kinds and conservatism of other kinds has occasionally been found to be greatest among working-class people. A lot appears to depend on the particular scale of conservatism used and its seems to be education rather than occupation which is the best predictor. Clearly, then, there is a need for a study which will combine many different measures of conservatism with many different indices of social class. Only under such circumstances might we hope to descry any overall relationship. Clearly, also on the present occasion the conservatism scales should be ones which measure conservatism in only one area at a time rather than purporting to measure conservatism overall. This is not only because Lipset's theory stresses the importance of getting the subtype of conservatism right but also because it has been shown elsewhere (Ray, 1973, Table 1, p. 224) that various subtypes of conservatism (i.e. conservatism on moral, political, social and economic issues) correlate only weakly in some cases. It is therefore possible that it is only conservatism in one area that is particularly working class.


A questionnaire was administered by students on a psychology course at Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia) to people they knew under the constraint that Ss 'of as low a social class as possible' were to be preferred. This constraint was made in order to counteract the usual middle-class bias of samples so obtained and to help ensure a good spread on the attributes of interest. It was specifically laid down that fellow students could not be used as interviewees. To ensure a good age spread, it was also specified that each student gather responses from one person in the 18-25 yr age group, one person in the 40-55 yr age group and one person from any age group. Data were gathered from a total of 203 respondents. Both male and female Ss were included.

Demographic data obtained for each S included occupation, education and income. Five possible class schemata were also presented and the S was instructed to locate himself in each. The schemata were as follows: (1) upper, upper middle, lower middle and lower; (2) upper, lower; (3) middle, working; (4) upper, middle, lower; (5) upper upper, lower upper, upper middle, middle middle, lower middle, upper lower, lower lower. Occupation was scored in two ways: according to Congalton's (1969) 7-point scale of occupational status in Australia and according to the very commonly-used dichotomy into manual vs non-manual. All class variables were scored so that higher status earned a higher score.

Also included in the questionnaire were several attitude scales designed to measure various sorts of conservatism: Aesthetic Conservatism, Economic Conservatism, Religious Conservatism, Moral Conservatism, General Social Conservatism and Political Conservatism. The items of each of these scales can be found in the Appendix. Additionally, there was a scale of Political Deference (i.e. respect for authority in government) and a scale of general acceptance of conventional institutional authority (the 'AA' scale). The items of these two latter scales are listed elsewhere (Ray, 1976, 1972).

Political party preference was also sought from each S but only 154 of the total 203 Ss responded. It was scored on a continuum from Right to Left with preference for a Rightist party earning a higher score.


All scales were analysed to delete items not correlating significantly with their respective scale totals. It is therefore the items remaining after this process that are given in the Appendix. The reliabilities of these final forms of the scales were (as indexed by Cronbach alpha): Political Conservatism, 0.72; Social Conservatism, 0.76; Aesthetic Conservatism, 0.59; Economic Conservatism, 0.72; Religious Conservatism, 0.78; Moral Conservatism, 0.77; Political Deference, 0.63; and Attitude to Authority (20-item form), 0.80.

The various class schemata were pitted against one another for predictive power and the 7-point schema was found to give the best prediction of the attitude variables. The details of this comparison can be found elsewhere (Ray, 1971). Only the correlates of the best (7-point) schema will be presented here. All significant (p < 0.05) correlations between the class and attitude variables are given in Table l. Table 2 gives information on the correlations between the scales themselves.

Table 1. Correlations between class and attitude variables (N = 203 except for the correlations with vote, where N = 154)

PD = Political deference; PC = Political conservatism; SC = Social conservatism; AC = Aesthetic conservatism; ED = Economic conservatism; RC = Religious conservatism; MC = Moral conservatism; AA = Attitude to authority and V = Vote


Occupational status.......0.23...........................,.....0.24...................................0.28
Subjective schema.........0.34....0.24......................0.31....0.20............0.18....0.19
Manual vs non-manual..0.18.......................0.15...0.18...................................0.31

Table 2. Intercorrelations between attitude scales on 203 Ss


Political Deference...........1.00.......0.20.....0.15....0.30.....0.09......0.17
Political Conservatism...................1.00.....0.46....0.37.....0.24......0.58
Social Conservatism..................................1.00....0.12.....0.30......0.56
Economic Conservatism.......................................1.00.....0.03......0.22
Moral Conservatism.........................................................1.00......0.41


Two things stand out from Table 1: the generally low level of the correlations and the fact that only two are negative in sign (as would be required by the Lipset account). Relationships between class and attitudinal variables are therefore sparse and only education varies to at least some extent in the way predicted by Lipset. There is no basis for associating working-class occupations with conservatism or authoritarianism of ideology but there is some basis for associating lower levels of education with conservatism on issues of sexual morality and general social issues. This is reminiscent of the finding obtained by use of much simpler indices in Lipsitz (1965). Radicalism on economic issues was, of course, found to be reliably associated with lower class but this prediction represents one of the hoariest generalizations in politics and is in no way unique to Lipset. Generally, then, the Lipset account of class ideology was found to have very little predictive use.

The results do however represent a confirmation of the view that the class index chosen makes a considerable difference. Social class is not a seamless web and people who are working class by one criterion will show different beliefs to people who are working class by other criteria. This does suggest the very limited use of the class concept -- at least in Australia.

It should be noted that, unlike Eysenck, Lipset conflates the two concepts of conservatism and authoritarianism. Following Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson and Sanford (1950), he sees authoritarianism as little more than an extreme form of conservatism. The present data, however, do enable the correlates of conservatism and authoritarianism to be examined separately. It is therefore interesting to note that the highest correlation in Table 1 shows that people who perceive themselves as of high social status are most likely to defer to expertise in government. This would seem to be the exact opposite of what Lipset predicts. Lipset's theory is therefore not only a poor account of the sources of conservatism but it is the reverse of the truth as an account of authoritarianism

It may be asked how the discrepancy arises between the present study and those studies which show more support for the Lipset theory. One answer is suggested if we examine a very useful Table provided by Nias (1973, p. 250). Nias finds an overall correlation of 0.25 between conservatism and low occupational status but also shows that when conservatism is broken up into subfactors only the ethnocentrism subfactor showed a significant correlation with occupation. Results which at first suggest that the workers are conservative overall prove on closer examination to show that the workers are not conservative (on four conservatism subscales) but are ethnocentric. Studies which fail to differentiate different types of conservatism cannot therefore be accepted as very informative in an examination of the Lipset hypothesis.

It is true that on Nias's (1973) results one might have expected that the Social Conservatism scale of the present study should correlate with occupation -- as that scale did contain a number of ethnocentrism items. It has however been shown elsewhere (Ray, 1974) that ethnocentrism too is far from a unitary entity and differences in the variety of ethnocentrism studied on the two occasions could account for the discrepancy in results.

Finally, the failure of income to predict vote on the present occasion may seem rather counter-intuitive from a British perspective. As in the U.S.A., however, both major political parties in Australia are essentially conservative -- particularly in fiscal matters. The phenomenon of the well-off Labor voter ('Limousine liberals' in Spiro Agnew's memorable phrase) is therefore quite familiar in Australia. It should also be noted that many categories of manual worker (particularly tradesmen) are very well paid in Australia so that again a traditional loyalty to the Labor party could go with high income.


Adorno T. W., Frenkel-Brunswik E., Levinson D. J. and Sanford R. N. (1950) The Authoritarian Personality. Harper, New York.

Congalton A. A. (1969) Status and Prestige in Australia. Cheshire, Melbourne, Victoria.

Eysenck H. J. (1954) The Psychology of Politics. Routledge, London.

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

Lipsitz L. (1965) Working class authoritarianism: a re-evaluation. Am. sociol. Rev. 30, 103-109.

Nias D. K. B. (1973) Attitudes to the Common Market: a case study in conservatism. In The Psychology of Conservatism, Chap. 16 (Edited by Wilson G. D.). Academic Press, London.

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

Ray, J.J. (1972) The measurement of political deference: Some Australian data. British Journal of Political Science 2, 244-251.

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

Are racists ethnocentric? Ch. 46 in Ray, J.J. (1974) Conservatism as heresy Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co.

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

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


The items of the conservatism scales. Items marked 'R' receive a low score for agreement. The remainder receive a high score for agreement. Five response options per item.

Political Conservatism (final reliability = 0.72)

1. The danger of communist infiltration into the union movement is great and the government should take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that it does not become widespread.
2. An occupation by a foreign power is better than war. R
3. Because many of the minor political parties merely confuse national issues, all political parties except the two major ones should be abolished.
4. Australia will not win respect in Asia by building up armed forces. R
5. In taking part in any form of world organization, this country should make certain that none of its independence and power is lost.
6. In disarmament negotiations the West should take the initiative by making concessions since such a procedure could produce concessions from the Soviet block. R
7. Australia should seek more ties with Asia. R
8. Patriotism and loyalty to one's country are more important than one's intellectual convictions and should have precedence over them.
9. A standing army of 100,000 men or over is necessary for our national defense at all times.
10. "My country right or wrong" is a saying which expresses a fundamentally dangerous attitude. R
11. In some ways dictatorships are desirable.
12. Australia should withdraw its troops from Vietnam immediately. R
13. Conscription should be abolished R
14. International communism is the main danger to Australia today.

Social Conservatism (final reliability = 0.76)

1. The Japanese are a very productive people and should be allowed to settle in Australia. R
2. Most migrants from Southern Europe become good citizens. R
3. Nearly all Jews are money hungry.
4. The English-speaking countries have reached a higher state of civilization than any other country in the world and as a consequence have a culture which is superior to any other.
5. Over 10% of the population is incapable of democratic participation in government by reason of their lack of inherited abilities.
6. Crime could be greatly reduced if we restricted migration to British people only.
7. Our treatment of criminals is too harsh; we should try to cure them, not punish them. R
8. All men are equal. R
9. Treason and murder should be punishable by death.
10. The death penalty for crime is barbaric, and should be abolished. R
11. Certain religious sects whose beliefs do not permit them to salute the flag, should either be forced to conform or else be abolished.
12. There will always be superior and inferior races in the world and in the interests of all concerned it is best that the superior continue to dominate the inferior.
13. In the national interest, private schools should either be abolished or restricted in their teachings so that the control of education is largely in the hands of the federal government. R
14. We should have complete freedom of speech even for those who criticize the law. R
15. Allowing educated Asians to immigrate benefits Australian society. R
16. The white Australia policy is a good policy because it helps to keep Australia white.
17. We must be careful not to let too many Asians into the country or they'll take over the place.
18. People should be allowed to hold demonstrations in the streets without police interference. R

Aesthetic Conservatism (final reliability = 0.59)

1. I like the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer.
2. There is nothing like a good stirring march tune.
3. I don't like classical music. R
4. I like music written by Bach.
5. I am usually bored by sacred and religious music. R
6. I like realistic paintings best.
7. I prefer the old masters to modern art.
8. The highly ornamented architecture of earlier centuries looks clumsy and ugly today. R
9. I really like to watch and hear birds and other animal life about us.
10. I don't like Shakespeare. R
11. I enjoy modern music better than music written years ago. R

Economic Conservatism (final reliability = 0.72)

1. A free dental service should be provided by the government. R
2. Private enterprise is always the most efficient system.
3. Capitalism is immoral because it exploits the worker by failing to give him full value for his productive labor. R
4. The nationalization of the great industries is likely to lead to inefficiency, bureaucracy and stagnation.
5. Ultimately, private property should be abolished and complete socialism introduced. R
6. Production and trade should be free from government interference.
7. The principle of free competition is a natural law which should govern our business system without governmental interference.
8. The growth of large corporations makes government regulation of business necessary. R
9. The government should take over all industries. R
10. Trade Unions should have much more voice in deciding government policies. R 11. For men to do their best, there must be the possibility of unlimited profit.
12. Poverty is chiefly a result of injustice in the distribution of wealth. R
13. The government should not attempt to limit profits.
14. Large incomes should be taxed more than they are now. R
15. Men would not do their best if government owned all industry.
16. On the whole, our economic system is just and wise.
17. When a rich man dies, most of his property should go to the state. R
18. The incomes of most people are a fair measure of their contribution to human welfare.
19. A man should strike in order to secure greater returns to labor. R
20. A man should be allowed to keep as large an income as he can get.
21. Money should be taken from the rich and given to the poor during hard times. R

Religious Conservatism (final reliability = 0.78)

1. If God listens to prayers, he certainly doesn't do much about them. R
2. One's chances of life after death are not likely to be affected by what religious denomination one belongs to. R
3. The form of worship (music, communion, ritual etc.) is unimportant. R
4. Every word of the Bible is inspired by God.
5. I believe that there is a physical Hell where men are punished after death for the sins of their lives. 6. I believe there is a supernatural being, the Devil, who continually tries to lead men into sin.
7. There are other religions in the world as good as Christianity. R
8. No church property should be exempted from taxation. R
9. A marriage that is not solemnized in a church is not complete.
10. To me the most important work of the church is the saving of souls.
11. I believe that there is a life after death.
12. I believe that there is a Divine plan and purpose for every living person and thing.
13. The only benefit one receives from prayer is psychological. R
14. The churches are out of date and could easily be done away with. R

Moral Conservatism (final reliability = 0.77)

1. Most decent men have a right to expect that they will marry a virgin.
2. I think girls should remain virgins until they marry.
3. Men and women have the right to find out whether they are sexually suited before marriage (e.g. by trial marriage). R
4. Pre-marital pregnancy is nothing to be ashamed of or to hide providing the couple is in love and later gets married. R
5. It is best not to try to prohibit erotic and obscene literature and pictures by law but rather to leave people free to follow their judgments and tastes in such matters. R
6. Marriage is a sacred covenant which should be broken only under the most drastic circumstances.
7. Sex relations except in marriage are always wrong.
8. Petting and necking between single people is unwise.
9. The pill should be made freely available to school-children and students, even though they do not expect to marry soon. R
10. Abortion should be legalized. R


Replication is one of the cornerstones of science. A new research result will normally require replication by later researchers before the truth and accuracy of the observation concerned is generally accepted. If a result is to be replicated, however, careful specification of the original research procedure is important.

In questionnaire research it has been my observation that the results are fairly robust as to questionnaire format. It is the content of the question that matters rather than how the question is presented (But see here and here). It is nonetheless obviously desirable for an attempted replication to follow the original procedure as closely as possible so I have given here samples of how I presented my questionnaires in most of the research I did. On all occasions, respondents were asked to circle a number to indicate their response.

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