War and the Preference for a Strong Leader

Conflict and the Choice for a Robust Chief


Mark Van Vugt co-wrote this text with fellow researchers Honorata Mazepus, Lasse Laustsen, Florian van Leeuwen, Henrikas Bartusevičius.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, an actor and comic turned politician and president of Ukraine, has astonished the world along with his exceptional management since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. His recognition surged—primarily based on our knowledge, belief in Zelenskyy elevated from 30 p.c in December 2020 to over 80 p.c in March 2022.

Analysis on management reveals that when residents are confronted with struggle, they have a tendency to worth sturdy, dominant, authoritarian management extra. However is Zelenskyy a dominant chief? And do Ukrainians desire sturdy, dominant leaders generally? If that’s the case, ought to we fear that Ukraine will flip into an authoritarian regime centralizing energy within the palms of a single, dominant particular person?

We tackle these questions right here utilizing two waves of survey knowledge collected in Ukraine in March and April 2022 by a neighborhood survey company, Data Sapiens. Particularly, we examine how preferences for splendid character traits in leaders are influenced by the present struggle. We additionally discover how such preferences are formed by feelings.

Most popular Leaders in Conflict

Throughout societies, individuals who face the specter of struggle are inclined to have a stronger desire for authoritarian governance (see this examine utilizing knowledge from 52 international locations). Some research counsel that this hyperlink is just not a mere correlation: the specter of struggle seems to trigger a desire for dominant management.

For instance, an experimental examine in the UK requested some members to think about a village at struggle with a neighbouring village, and different members to think about a village at peace with a neighbouring village. These requested to think about struggle expressed a stronger desire for authoritarian governance.

In one other examine, folks within the Netherlands who have been requested to think about that they elect a nationwide chief when their nation is at struggle voted for somebody with a dominant-looking face. Related patterns have been present in one other examine in Denmark.

Nevertheless, these research rely solely on folks imagining struggle and battle, with most members within the experiments having no direct expertise with struggle. What sort of chief do folks desire when the struggle is actual and the prospects for peace are bleak?

What Form of Chief Do Ukrainians Need?

We fielded the primary wave of our survey two weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine. Over 1,000 Ukrainians participated within the survey (a lot of them reported being attacked by the Russian forces; see our earlier weblog put up about assaults on Ukrainians and their willingness to withstand). We requested half of them to select their splendid chief within the present struggle and the opposite half to select their splendid chief when desirous about a peaceable future. We requested, particularly, to report their preferences about chief dominance, competence, and heat. These requested to consider instances of peace assigned much less significance to dominance and wished their chief to be competent and heat.

In April 2022, we carried out the second wave of our survey and we re-interviewed over 800 Ukrainians who took half within the first wave. This time, we requested all members to think about selecting their splendid chief within the present state of affairs (i.e., throughout the ongoing struggle). Those that thought of a peaceable future within the first wave after which thought of the present state of affairs (struggle) within the second wave, wished a extra dominant chief within the second wave. This strongly suggests that individuals need completely different leaders for various conditions.

What Feelings Steer Individuals Towards Dominant Leaders?

We additionally tracked modifications in Ukrainian’s feelings between the 2 survey waves. Over this time, anxiousness (feeling afraid, frightened, scared) and unhappiness (feeling unhappy, lonely, downhearted) decreased, whereas aggression (feeling indignant and hostile) barely elevated, and self-confidence remained the identical (feeling proud, sturdy, assured). Among the many mixture of feelings, aggression was the most effective predictor of the desire for a dominant chief, and this affiliation was stronger amongst Ukrainian males than ladies.

Is Zelenskyy a Dominant Chief?

We additionally requested the members to judge Zelenskyy’s character. They rated him as extremely competent and extremely heat, however solely reasonably dominant.

This hints at an attention-grabbing puzzle: If struggle will increase desire for dominant leaders, and dominance is just not Zelenskyy’s high trait, then why has he been so standard because the invasion? Maybe Ukrainians see Zelenskyy as sufficiently dominant, having the best stability of chief traits for these extraordinarily difficult instances.

Will Ukraine Turn out to be Extra Authoritarian?

During the last twenty years, a number of European international locations have grow to be much less democratic and extra authoritarian, with prime examples being Poland and Hungary. What about future Ukraine? If the struggle continues, and desire for dominant management certainly will increase throughout the instances of struggle, one may ask whether or not Ukraine will even regress towards authoritarianism.

We see such a regress as not inevitable, for 2 causes.

1. Political tradition vs. alternative

First, a perception exists that Jap Europeans are predisposed to favour sturdy leaders—however that is largely a delusion (for dialogue, see this text). Analysis reveals that preferences for authoritarian leaders enhance throughout all cultures (not simply in sure areas like Jap Europe) in response to explicit socioeconomic or political situations or occasions, comparable to wars or financial crises.

Leaders with authoritarian tendencies can come to energy not solely in hybrid regimes and autocracies but in addition in democracies. Within the final many years, residents of recent and previous democracies, for instance, the U.S., Poland, Hungary, and Brazil, have chosen leaders with authoritarian tendencies (principally) in free and truthful elections. Thus, given sure threatening circumstances, folks in every single place can flip in direction of authoritarianism.

The constructive flipside is that beneath the best circumstances, folks in every single place can flip to democracy. The massive help for Zelenskyy throughout this struggle, despite the fact that he isn’t seen as notably dominant, reveals that individuals worth completely different traits in leaders even throughout a serious disaster.

2. No struggle lasts perpetually

Yet another discovering speaks towards an authoritarian future for Ukraine. When imagining a peaceable future for his or her nation, Ukrainians most well-liked a hotter, extra competent chief over a dominant one. This aligns with current work exhibiting that heat typically is essentially the most valued high quality in political leaders beneath regular situations.

Furthermore, psychological and anthropological analysis reveals that resentment towards authoritarian management is frequent in human societies, besides quickly in an acute disaster. So, when peace finally returns, Ukrainians will probably recalibrate their management preferences; then—as now—they are going to seemingly worth heat and competence over dominance.


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