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Karen Stenner

Political psychologist & behavioral economist, best known for long ago predicting the rise of Trump-like figures under the kinds of conditions we now confront.


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

Authoritarianism and the Future of Liberal Democracy

HOPE Not Hate magazine, 2020

How to Live With Authoritarians

Foreign Policy, 2021


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


Recent media articles that cover my political research.

The New York Times

Jul 22, 2020

Thomas B. Edsall
The Whole of Liberal Democracy Is in Grave Danger at This Moment
The Atlantic

Aug 09, 2019

Conor Friedersdorf
What Ails the Right Isn't (Just) Racism
The New York Times

Jan 22, 2020

Thomas B. Edsall
Why Trump Persists
The Atlantic

Feb 02, 2017

Conor Friedersdorf
How Conservatives Can Save America
The Atlantic

Jun 03, 2020

Anne Applebaum
Resist the Urge to Simplify the Story
Boston Globe

Dec 18, 2020

Scot Lehigh
Beware of Authoritarianism and Conspiratorialism, Twin Threats to our Democracy
The New York Times

Dec 07, 2017

Thomas B. Edsall
Liberals Need to Take Their Fingers Out of Their Ears
The New York Times

Apr 05, 2018

Thomas B. Edsall
The Contract With Authoritarianism
Los Angeles Times

Sep 08, 2020

Jonah Goldberg
In American Politics Today, the Center is a Lonely Place To Be
The Atlantic

Mar 11, 2019

David Frum
If Liberals Won't Enforce Borders, Fascists Will

Feb 05, 2019

Adam Forrest
Democracy undergoing 'alarming' decline around the world, study finds
The Guardian

Jul 14, 2018

Sheri Berman
Why Identity Politics Benefits the Right More Than the Left
Pacific Standard

Mar 26, 2018

Tom Jacobs
Authoritarianism: The Terrifying Trait that Trump Triggers
The Atlantic

Nov 09, 2017

Conor Friedersdorf
Now It's Democrats Who Feel Their Values Threatened - and Are Voting
The American Interest

Jul 10, 2016

Jonathan Haidt
When and Why Nationalism Beats Globalism
The New Yorker

Dec 25, 2016

Maria Konnikova
The Psychological Research That Helps Explain the Election
The New York Times

Jun 22, 2017

Thomas B. Edsall
The End of the Left and the Right as We Knew Them
The Atlantic

Jul 01, 2017

Peter Beinart
How the Democrats Lost Their Way on Immigration
The Atlantic

Apr 04, 2017

Conor Friedersdorf
Why Trump Will Find It Hard to Pivot From Bigotry to Bipartisanship
The Atlantic

Nov 30, 2016

Conor Friedersdorf
Making Up Is Hard to Do

Mar 01, 2016

Amanda Taub
The Rise of American Authoritarianism
The New York Times

Sep 28, 2017

Thomas B. Edsall
The Trump Voter Paradox
The Atlantic

May 02, 2017

Conor Friedersdorf
Moderation in Defense of Liberty Is No Vice
The Atlantic

May 16, 2018

Conor Friedersdorf
How Rhetoric on the Left Fuels Bigotry on the Right
New Statesman

Nov 10, 2016

Eric Kaufmann
It's NOT the economy, stupid: busting the myth of how Donald Trump won
The American Conservative

Aug 12, 2016

Rod Dreher
Inside The Head Of Trump Voters

Jan 30, 2016

Matthew MacWilliams
Channeling the dark side of Trump's supporters

Oct 19, 2018

Teri Kanefield
Why Trump's supporters will believe any lie he tells
Aftenposten (Norway)

Dec 19, 2016

Oystein K. Langberg
Vi ma 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.]
New York Daily News

Feb 01, 2017

Gersh Kuntzman
Basic 'lizard brain' psychology can explain the rise of Donald Trump
El Economista

Apr 21, 2021

Arturo Magana Duplancher
Predisposicion autoritaria




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.

July 2022

My discussion with Rafael Behr re. many practical ways of attracting authoritarian populists away from the far right.

July 2021

Helen Lewis interviewed me on how liberal democracy has to come to terms with authoritarian predispositions in the population.



Alex Evans interviewed me on why support for authoritarianism is so widespread, what we can do about it, and what's next in countries like the U.S. where authoritarian intolerance  has been surging.

Article: Can Chloé Valdary Sell Skeptics on DEI?, by Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic



My research on how tolerance is enhanced not by emphasising human difference but rather creating feelings of 'oneness and sameness' is cited here as Friedersdorf discusses Chloé Valdary's innovative work on reducing bigotry via love (including self-love). Suggests the best means of reducing bigotry is not the current practice of 'anti-racism' – an insight that might singlehandedly transform the contemporary 'Diversity, Equity & Inclusion' industry.

Article: Beware of Authoritarianism and Conspiratorialism, Twin Threats to our Democracy, by Scot Lehigh of the Boston Globe



A clear and thoughtful piece by Scot Lehigh, featuring some of my research on authoritarianism. We discuss the potential links between authoritarian personality & belief in wild conspiracies.



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.




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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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