Belmont University Research Symposium (BURS)

Is Democracy Dead?

Publication Date

Spring 2022


Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, College of


Political Science, Department of

BURS Faculty Advisor

Dr. Nathan Griffith

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation


This study dives into the long standing debate concerning the origins of authoritarianism within societies. While many scholars have argued that authoritarianism is an inherent personality trait that varies from individual to individual, this study focuses on the presence of threat and its impact on authoritarian tendencies in elections. This study evaluates the effect of varying levels of economic and political threat on the authoritarian tendencies in American voting behavior to discern whether higher levels of threat correspond to higher levels of authoritarianism present in both individual voters, and in the United States over a series of elections. To evaluate this claim, this study uses American National Election Studies survey data from the elections 2004-2020 to determine what the perceived threat levels were, both on the individual voter level and on an aggregate national level, and what the corresponding authoritarian levels were for these same populations. Perceived levels of political and economic threat are determined using questions relating to the state of the economy, as well as the United States’ position in the world, and compared to a score for authoritarianism that was created using questions relating to defense spending, immigration policies, as well as controls and limits on executive power. This study will evaluate the threat nexus argument for authoritarianism and determine whether greater levels of perceived political and economic threat are determinants for or perhaps triggers for greater authoritarian tendencies in large scale voting patterns across the country.

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