Psychological needs and values underlying left-right political orientation: Cross-national evidence from Eastern and Western Europe

Hulda Thorisdottir, John T. Jost, Ido Liviatan, Patrick E. Shrout

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


According to previous research conducted mainly in the United States, psychological needs pertaining to the management of uncertainty and threat predict right-wing conservatism, operationally defined in terms of resistance to change and acceptance of inequality. In this study, we analyze data from 19 countries included in the European Social Survey (ESS) to assess two sets of hypotheses: (1) that traditionalism (an aspect of resistance to change) and acceptance of inequality would be positively associated with right (versus left) orientation, and (2) that rule-following (an aspect of the need for order), high need for security, and low need for openness to experience would be associated with right (versus left) orientation, adjusting for quadratic effects associated with ideological extremity. In addition, we determine the extent to which the pattern of relations among needs, values, and political orientation was similar in Eastern and Western European contexts. Results from regression and structural equation models indicate that traditionalism and, to a lesser extent, rule-following predict right-wing conservatism in both regions, whereas acceptance of inequality predicts right-wing orientation in the West only. Although openness to experience was associated with preferences for greater equality in both regions, it was associated with left-wing orientation in Western Europe and right-wing orientation in Eastern Europe. Needs for security, conversely, were associated with right-wing orientation in Western Europe and left-wing orientation in Eastern Europe. Thus, we find evidence of both universal and context-specific effects in our analysis of the cognitive and motivational antecedents of left-right political orientation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-203
Number of pages29
JournalPublic Opinion Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2007


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science

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