Right-Wing Authoritarianism Scale


The Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWAS) Scale is intended to measure the trait of authoritarianism in the service of es­tablished authority. In Altemeyer's (1988, p. 2) own words, right-wing authoritarianism means the combination of the following three attitudinal clusters:

  • Authoritarian submission: a high de­gree of submission to the authorities, who are perceived to be established and legitimate in the society in which one lives.
  • Authoritarian aggression: a general ag­gressiveness, directed against various persons, that is perceived to be sanc­tioned by established authorities.
  • Conventionalism: a high degree of ad­herence to the social conventions that are perceived to be endorsed by society and its established authorities.

It should be emphasized that RWA is rep­ resented by the combination of these three attributes, not by one of them only. For ex­ ample, someone who happens to hold conventional views is not automatically, neces­sarily authoritarian. But someone who shows conventionalism (in the sense given above) knit together with the other attitudes would be seen as right-wing authoritarian.


The stimulus for the development of the RWA scale was the pioneering work on The Authoritarian Personality (Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswick, Levinson, & Sanford, 1950). Conceived in psychoana­lytic terms, the high authoritarian was seen as being possessed of unconscious hostility and thus susceptible to fascist propaganda. This idea was a theoretical milestone be­ cause it was the first time that psychologists stated a compelling rationale for a possible link between personality and ideology. However, the F Scale, used to assess the authoritarian personality, contained method­ological flaws, and by the 1960s much of the research centered on problems with the scale rather than on the theory that underlay it.

Research on the topic waned until Alte­meyer developed a simpler conceptualiza­tion of authoritarianism and a suitable scale to measure it. The RWA Scale, which, un­ like the F Scale, is balanced against re­sponse sets, has been modified annually since its first publication in 1981. This re­ view addresses the 1994 version.

It is often asked whether there is also an authoritarianism on the left. Altemeyer (1996) has recently advanced such a con­ceptualization and research bearing on it. Thus far, however, left-wing authoritarian­ ism has proven unrelated to religious vari­ables, whereas the right-wing version has a rich history of connections.

The 1994 RWA Scale contains 34 state­ments but only the last 30 are scored. Each item is answered on a 9-point Likert scale for which the answer options range from -4 (very strongly disagree) to +4 (very strongly agree). A neutral answer is indicated by a 0. A final score is obtained by adding a con­stant of five to all answers. The individual scores are then summed to yield a total score. RWA scores can range from a low of 30 to a high of 270, with a theoretical mid­ point of 150.

Practical Considerations:

The scale takes approximately 20 minutes to complete. No special training or instructions are required. The instructions on the scale are clear and self-explanatory.


While the initial standardization group consisted of Univer­sity of Manitoba students in the early 1970s, cross-validating studies quickly extended the findings to many other North American student populations and even parents of uni­versity students. Tens of thousands of peo­ple have since completed the scale, resulting in a large volume of data collected from dif­ferent samples and in different cultures and languages. The scale has shown robustness across its versions and the various samples, even internationally after being translated into Russian, German, and Spanish.

Means obtained with the 1994 scale tend to be somewhat lower than with earlier ver­sions. On the present scale, student means tend to land in the 120s, whereas those of their parents place about 25 points higher. No appreciable sex differences are apparent in RWA scores, although women tend to score higher on items that tap conventional­ ism and men tend to score higher on items that tap authoritarian aggression.

Representing non-Christianized popula­tions, Hunsberger (1996) reports data with the previous scale for a Toronto sample of 23 Hindus (M = 157.2, SD = 22.0), 21 Mus­lims (M = 171.5, SD= 28.7), and 32 Jews (M = 110.8, SD= 41.0).


Altemeyer (1996) cites over 30 studies for which the internal consistency reliability ranged from .81 to .95. The only exception was a coefficient of .43 among 400 Xhosa-speaking students who answered the scale in English. Generally speaking, the reliability of the RWA Scale has increased to about the .90 level or better as a result of test improvements over the years. Test­ retest reliability coefficients for students have ranged from .95 over a one-week inter­val to .85 for 28 weeks between testings.


The combined evidence suggests that the RWA Scale measures what it is in­ tended to measure. High RWAs tend to ad­ here to traditional religious teachings more than low RWAs, suggesting that the scale is sensitive to the attribute of conventionalism. This finding occurs for samples of Chris­ tians, Palestinian Muslims, and Orthodox Jews. RWA is positively correlated with Christian orthodoxy and dogmatism. In sev­eral studies, RWA scores correlated between .66 and .75 with religious fundamentalism. Similar data show that high RWAs tend to be more prejudiced, more willing to use punitive measures, and more likely to in­ form established authorities of others who violate laws. People high in RWA also tend to endorse statements at Stage 2 (mythic-literal faith) and Stage 3 (synthetic-conven­tional faith) in Fowler's theory of faith de­velopment. Altemeyer (1996) has recently concluded that religious fundamentalism is largely the right-wing authoritarian 's re­sponse to the religious impulse. Overall, the data fall into a pattern of what would be ex­pected on theoretical grounds.

Right-Wing Authoritarianism Scale (1994)‌

Instructions: This survey is part of an investigation of general public opinion concerning a va­riety of social issues. You will probably find that you agree with some of the statements, and disagree with others, to varying extents. Please indicate your reaction to each statement by marking your opinion next to the statement, according to the following scale:

  • 4 if you very strongly disagree with the statement
  • 3 if you strongly disagree with the statement
  • 2 if you moderately disagree with the statement
  • 1 if you slightly disagree with the statement
  • + 1 if you slightly agree with the statement
  • + 2 if you moderately agree with the statement
  • + 3 if you strongly agree with the statement
  • + 4 if you very strongly agree with the statement

If you feel exactly and precisely neutral about a statement, mark a "O'' next to it.

You may find that you sometimes have different reactions to different parts of a statement. For example, you might very strongly disagree (-4) with one idea in a statement, but slightly agree (+1) with another idea in the same item. When this happens, please combine your re­ actions and write down how you feel "on balance" (that is, a -3 in this example).

  1. Life imprisonment is justified for certain crimes.
  2. Women should have to promise to obey their husbands when they get married.
  3. The established authorities in our country are usually smarter, better informed, and more competent than others are, and the people can rely on them.
  4. It is important to protect fully the rights of radicals and deviants.
  5. Our country desperately needs a mighty leader who will do what has to be done to de­ stroy the radical new ways and sinfulness that are ruining us.
  6. Gays and lesbians are just as healthy and moral as anybody else.*
  7. Our country will be great if we honor the ways of our forefathers, do what the authori­ ties tell us to do, and get rid of the "rotten apples" who are ruining everything.
  8. Atheists and others who have rebelled against established religion are no doubt every bit as good and virtuous as those who attend church regularly.*
  9. The real keys to the "good life" are obedience, discipline, and sticking to the straight and narrow.
  10. A lot of our rules regarding modesty and sexual behavior are just customs which are not necessarily any better or holier than those which other people follow.*
  11. There are many radical, immoral people in our country today who are trying to ruin it for their own godless purposes, whom the authorities should put out of action.
  12. It is always better to trust the judgment of the proper authorities in government and reli­ gion than to listen to the noisy rabble-rousers in our society who are trying to create doubt in people's minds.
  13. There is absolutely nothing wrong with nudist camps.*
  14. There is no "one right way" to live your life. Everybody has to create their own way.*
  15. Our country will be destroyed someday if we do not smash the perversions eating away at our moral fiber and traditional beliefs.
  16. It's a mistake to "stick strictly to the straight and narrow" in life, for you'll miss a lot of interesting people from quite different backgrounds who can change you, and some of the best experiences you can have.*
  17. The situation in our country is getting so serious, the strongest methods would be justi­ fied if they eliminated the troublemakers and got us back to our true path.
  18. It would be best for everyone if the proper authorities censored magazines so that people could not get their hands on trashy and disgusting material.
  19. Everyone should have their own lifestyle, religious beliefs, and sexual preferences, even if it makes them different from everyone else.*
  20. A "woman's place" should be wherever she wants to be. The days when women are sub­ missive to their husbands and social conventions belong strictly in the past.*
  21. What our country really needs is a strong, determined leader who will crush evil and take us back to our true path.
  22. People should pay less attention to the Bible and the other old traditional forms of reli­ gious guidance and instead develop their own personal standards of what is moral and immoral.
  23. Enough is enough! If the loafers, deviants, and troublemakers won't "shape up," then they should be severely disciplined and taught a lesson they'll never forget.
  24. Our country needs freethinkers who will have the courage to defy traditional ways, even if this upsets many people.*
  25. There is nothing wrong with premarital sexual intercourse.*
  26. It may be considered old-fashioned by some, but having a normal, proper appearance is still the mark of a gentleman and, especially, a lady.
  27. It is wonderful that young people today have greater freedom to protest against things they don't like and to make their own "rules" to govern their behavior.
  28. What our country really needs, instead of more "civil rights," is a good stiff dose of law and order.
  29. Government, judges, and the police should never be allowed to censor books.*
  30. Obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues children should learn.
  31. We should treat protesters and radicals with open arms and open minds, since new ideas are the lifeblood of progressive change.*
  32. Once our government leaders and the authorities condemn the dangerous elements in our society, it will be the duty of every patriotic citizen to help stomp out the rot that is poi­ soning our country from within.
  33. Rules about being "well-behaved" and "respectable" should be changed in favor of greater freedom and new ways of living.*
  34. The facts on crime, sexual immorality, and recent public disorders all show we have to crack down harder on deviant groups and troublemakers if we are going to save our moral standards and preserve law and order.

* Item is worded in the contrait direction, that is, the right-wing authoritarian response is to disagree.

Note 1. Only items 5-34 are scored.

Note 2. All items are scored on a 9-point basis. For protrait statements, "-4" is scored as I, and "+4" is scored as 9. The keying is reversed for contrail items. For both kinds of items, the neutral answer ("O'') is scored as 5. The lowest possible score is 30, and the highest is 270.

A-4 to +4 response scale has been used on the RWA Scale since 1980, rather than the usual -3 to +3, be­ cause experiments have shown it produces (marginally) higher reliability. Either a 9-point or a 7-point re­ sponse scale appears to be superior to the 5-point scale Likert (1932) invented. A 3-point response scale ("disagree-?-agree") seems to damage appreciably a scale's psychometric properties among populations capable of making finer distinctions (Altemeyer, 1988, pp. 39-42).

(Emphasis in original.)


The following book presents the 1994 RWA Scale. See Altemeyer's 1981 and 1988 books in the references below for ear­lier versions of the scale.

Altemeyer, B. (1996). The authoritarian specter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Subsequent Research:

Altemeyer, B., & Hunsberger, B. (1992). Au­ thoritarianism, religious fundamentalism, quest, and prejudice. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 2, 113-133.

Hunsberger, B. (1996). Religious fundamental­ ism, right-wing authoritarianism and hostility to­ ward homosexuals in non-Christian religious groups. The International Journal for the Psychol­ogy of Religion, 6, 39-49.

Hunsberger, B., Pancer, M.S., Pratt, M., & Al­ isat, S. (1996). The transition to university: Is reli­gion related to adjustment? In M. Lynn & D. Moberg (Eds.), Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion (Vol. 7, pp. 181-199). Greenwich, CT: JAi Press.

Hunsberger, 8., Pratt, M., & Pancer, S. M. (1994). Religious fundamentalism and integrative complexity of thought: A relationship for existential content only? Journal for the Scientific Study of Re­ligion, 33, 335-346.

Leak, G. K., & Randall, B. A. (1995). Clarifica­tion of the link between right-wing authoritarianism and religiousness: The role of religious maturity. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 34, 245-252.


Adorno, T. W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D. I., & Sanford, R. N. (1950). The authoritarian personality. New York: Harper.

Altemeyer, B. (1981). Right-wing authoritarian­ ism. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.

Altemeyer, B. (1988). Enemies of freedom: Un­derstanding right-wing authoritarianism. San Fran­ cisco: Jossey-Bass.