Karen Stenner

Political psychologist & behavioral economist


I am best known for research I first started presenting two decades ago that predicted the rise of 'Far Right' candidates and politics under exactly the kinds of conditions we now confront. (Go here for a review). But my research goes much further than that, being a general account of the conditions under which a large proportion (around a third) of humanity, who harbor (relatively immutable) predispositions to favor 'oneness and sameness' over freedom and diversity, come to find their societies and polities intolerable, and push back with a vengeance. In essence, it is about the limits to liberal democracy.  But it is written with a desire to save liberal democracy (from itself).


As I noted back in 2005: "Democracy is most secure, and tolerance is maximized, when we design systems to accommodate how people actually are. Because some people will never live comfortably in a modern liberal democracy" (The Authoritarian Dynamic, p. 335).

My research on authoritarianism and 'Far Right' politics uses psychological theories and methods (in particular, Randomized Controlled Trials) to explain human behavior. These days, I also use those same theories and methods (particularly RCTs) to shift human behavior... via more effective communications and campaigns (of every kind), including designing and embedding messages that de-activate authoritarianism and diminish expressions of intolerance and racism in a society.





I'm a behavioral economist with a PhD in Political Psychology. Formerly an academic (Princeton, Duke), I left academia with a strong desire to apply my unique combination of talents and skills to the resolution of pressing, real-world problems, and this is what motivates all of the enterprises described here.




The Authoritarian Dynamic

Cambridge University Press, 2005

Three Kinds of 'Conservatism'

Psychological Inquiry, 2009

'Conservatism', Context-Dependence, and Cognitive Incapacity

Psychological Inquiry, 2009

Authoritarianism is not a momentary madness, but an eternal dynamic within liberal democracies

In C. R. Sunstein (Ed.), Can it happen here? Authoritarianism in America, 2018

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A selection of my research publications on authoritarianism, conservatism and politics:


Recent media articles that cover my political research.

Jul 21, 2020

The New York Times

Thomas B. Edsall

The Whole of Liberal Democracy Is in Grave Danger at This Moment

Aug 08, 2019

The Atlantic

Conor Friedersdorf

What Ails the Right Isn’t (Just) Racism

Jan 21, 2020

The New York Times

Thomas B. Edsall

Why Trump Persists

Feb 01, 2017

The Atlantic

Conor Friedersdorf

How Conservatives Can Save America

Jun 02, 2020

The Atlantic

Anne Applebaum

Resist the Urge to Simplify the Story

Dec 06, 2017

The New York Times

Thomas B. Edsall

Liberals Need to Take Their Fingers Out of Their Ears

Apr 04, 2018

The New York Times

Thomas B. Edsall

The Contract With Authoritarianism

Sep 07, 2020

Los Angeles Times

Jonah Goldberg

In American Politics Today, the Center is a Lonely Place To Be

Mar 10, 2019

The Atlantic

David Frum

If Liberals Won’t Enforce Borders, Fascists Will

Feb 04, 2019


Adam Forrest

Democracy undergoing 'alarming' decline around the world, study finds

Jul 13, 2018

The Guardian

Sheri Berman

Why Identity Politics Benefits the Right More Than the Left

Mar 25, 2018

Pacific Standard

Tom Jacobs

Authoritarianism: The Terrifying Trait that Trump Triggers

Nov 08, 2017

The Atlantic

Conor Friedersdorf

Now It's Democrats Who Feel Their Values Threatened—and Are Voting

Jul 09, 2016

The American Interest

Jonathan Haidt

When and Why Nationalism Beats Globalism

Dec 24, 2016

The New Yorker

Maria Konnikova

The Psychological Research That Helps Explain the Election


Jun 21, 2017

The New York Times

Thomas B. Edsall

The End of the Left and the Right as We Knew Them


Jun 30, 2017

The Atlantic

Peter Beinart

How the Democrats Lost Their Way on Immigration


Apr 03, 2017

The Atlantic

Conor Friedersdorf

Why Trump Will Find It Hard to Pivot From Bigotry to Bipartisanship

Nov 29, 2016

The Atlantic

Conor Friedersdorf

Making Up Is Hard to Do

Feb 29, 2016


Amanda Taub

The Rise of American Authoritarianism

The New York Times

Thomas B. Edsall

The Trump Voter Paradox

May 01, 2017

The Atlantic

Conor Friedersdorf

Moderation in Defense of Liberty Is No Vice

May 15, 2018

The Atlantic

Conor Friedersdorf

How Rhetoric on the Left Fuels Bigotry on the Right

Nov 09, 2016

New Statesman

Eric Kaufmann

It’s NOT the economy, stupid: busting the myth of how Donald Trump won

Aug 11, 2016

The American Conservative

Rod Dreher

Inside The Head Of Trump Voters

Jan 29, 2016


Matthew MacWilliams

Channeling the dark side of Trump’s supporters

Oct 18, 2018


Teri Kanefield

Why Trump’s supporters will believe any lie he tells

Dec 18, 2016

Aftenposten (Norway)

Øystein K. Langberg

Vi må dyrke enhet fremfor mangfold og multikultur, mener forskere. Kun det kan sikre demokratiets fremtid. (We need to cultivate unity over diversity and multiculturalism, researchers believe. Only that can secure the future of democracy.)

Jan 31, 2017

New York Daily News

Gersh Kuntzman

Basic ‘lizard brain’ psychology can explain the rise of Donald Trump

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Here's what I've been up to lately. These articles, podcasts and interviews answer many of the central questions people have about my work on authoritarianism and liberal democracy.



Liberal democracy has now exceeded many people’s capacity to tolerate it. A HOPE not hate special essay by Karen Stenner.



​Here's another brilliant piece by ⁦‪Conor Friedersdorf that extensively cites my research. He discusses how authoritarianism underwrites all kinds of intolerance (racial, political, moral, and punitiveness). In this way it provides a fuller account than racism of our current political moment (and developments across western liberal democracy more generally) and thus better guidance on how to respond to it.

Podcast: The Authoritarian Vote, my discussion with Yascha Mounk on The Good Fight



Spoke with the wonderful @Yascha_Mounk about the dynamics of authoritarianism and populism, and their implications for the survival of liberal democracy around the globe. Includes ideas for helping authoritarians live in peace with democracy!

Interview: with Tom Jacobs at Pacific Standard



My interview with Tom Jacobs following the publication of my essay with Jonathan Haidt: "Authoritarianism is not a momentary madness", in Cass Sunstein's edited collection: Can It Happen Here? We talked about why authoritarianism persists - in around a third of the citizens in modern liberal democracies - and how living in a vibrant liberal democracy itself produces conditions guaranteed to 'activate' authoritarians and increase their display of intolerant attitudes and behaviors.

Analysis: EuroPulse Survey 2016



Evidence from my analysis of the 2016 EuroPulse Survey (Dalia Research) indicates that authoritarianism and 'Right-wing' self-placement are distinct dimensions.




+61 1 800 95 96 96

My local time is:
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The repository contains additional material  (appendices & figures) related to research conducted as part of Authoritarianism is Not a Momentary Madness (with Jonathan Haidt) and The Authoritarian Dynamic.

Authoritarianism is Not a Momentary Madness

Appendix F

The Authoritarian Dynamic

Appendices and Figures

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© 2019 by Karen Stenner

Last updated August 2019