The politics of fear: Is there an ideological asymmetry in existential motivation?

John T. Jost, Chadly Stern, Nicholas O. Rule, Joanna Sterling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A meta-analysis by Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski, and Sulloway (2003) suggested that existential needs to reduce threat were associated with political conservatism. Nevertheless, some maintain that fear plays as prevalent a role on the left as the right. In an attempt to resolve this issue, we reviewed evidence from 134 different samples (N = 369,525) and 16 countries-a database 16 times larger than those previously considered. Although the association between fear of death and conservatism was not reliable, there was a significant effect of mortality salience (r = .08-.13) and a significant association between subjective perceptions of threat and conservatism (r = .12-.31). Exposure to objectively threatening circumstances, such as terrorist attacks, was associated with a "conservative shift" at individual (r = .07-.14) and aggregate (r = .29-.66) levels of analysis. Psychological reactions to fear and threat thus convey a small-to-moderate political advantage for conservative leaders, parties, policies, and ideas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)324-353
Number of pages30
JournalSocial Cognition
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2017


  • Existential motivation
  • Fear
  • Meta-analysis
  • Political conservatism
  • Threat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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