The Economic Origins of Authoritarian Values: Evidence from Local Trade Shocks in the United Kingdom

Abstract: Authoritarian values have long been thought to be an important determinant of public opinion and political behaviour including the support of populist political parties. Explanations for why some individuals have more authoritarian values than others have focused on various processes of socialization and economic conflict. Evidence that economic change fosters authoritarian values has primarily been based on aggregate correlations across countries or across time within countries or individual-level correlations between economic characteristics and authoritarian values. Using an original 2016 survey representative of the British population, this paper uses local economic shocks in Great Britain induced by China’s integration with the world economy to estimate the causal impact of economic change on authoritarian values. We find that individuals living in regions in which local labour markets were more substantially affected by imports from China have significantly more authoritarian values.

Our estimates are robust to the inclusion of a wide variety of demographic variables as well as controls for immigration patterns. We interpret these results as signalling the potential importance of economic shocks from many sources such as technological change and macroeconomic cycles on value formation.

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