ATLANTA—Low-income individuals tend to be more supportive of strong leadership and more suspicious of democracy than the rich, according to research by Georgia State University professor of economics Alberto Chong.
In “On the Preferences for Strong Leadership” (Social Science Quarterly), Chong and co-author Mark Gradstein of Ben Gurion University seek to answer the question of who favors strong political leadership with few checks on its power.
Using a survey of individual attitudes of people across 25 countries from 1999 to 2004, and citing examples from African, Russian and United States governments, the co-authors present evidence indicating the support for strong leadership is inversely related to individual income, even after controlling for characteristics such as education.
Individual attitudes toward strong leadership are also related to income inequality, level of gross domestic product per capita and institutional characteristics, which the researchers define as the quality of the bureaucracy and the extent of corruption in a country.
“Our research suggests that strong leaders might have a greater ability to manipulate individual beliefs, particularly with people in lower income brackets,” says Chong. “Wealthier individuals, on the other hand, may possess traits like ambition or assertiveness which might cause them to view strong leaders as potential rivals, thus encouraging them to go against or be suspicious of the regime.”
Chong and Gradstein also found political instability and tensions among ethnic groups reinforce the support for strong leadership.
“One example of this is the Peruvian government during the 1980s,” says Chong. “During that era, the Communist Party of Peru, known as the Shining Path, launched internal conflict in the country with the goal of overthrowing the state. They wanted to destroy the dominance of non-indigenous people through execution and chaos, and the conflict between the groups made room for strong leadership to thrive.”
By Rashida Powell
Department of Economics
Alberto Chong is a professor in the Department of Economics at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies and holds a joint appointment with the College of Education and Human Development. His current research interests include a broad range of areas in economic development, political economy and public policy including private sector, information technologies, and governance. He is currently an Associate Editor with Economics Bulletin.