“Our Country Needs a Strong Leader Right Now”: Economic Inequality Enhances the Wish for a Strong Leader

Stefanie Sprong, Jolanda Jetten, Zhechen Wang, Kim Peters, Frank Mols, Maykel Verkuyten, Brock Bastian, Amarina Ariyanto, Frédérique Autin, Nadia Ayub, Constantina Badea, Tomasz Besta, Fabrizio Butera, Rui Costa-Lopes, Lijuan Cui, Carole Fantini, Gillian Finchilescu, Lowell Gaertner, Mario Gollwitzer, Ángel GómezRoberto González, Ying Yi Hong, Dorthe Høj Jensen, Inga Jasinskaja-Lahti, Minoru Karasawa, Thomas Kessler, Olivier Klein, Marcus Lima, Laura Mégevand, Thomas Morton, Paola Paladino, Tibor Polya, Tuuli Anna Renvik, Aleksejs Ruza, Wan Shahrazad, Sushama Shama, Heather J. Smith, Ana Raquel Torres, Anne Marthe van der Bles, Michael J.A. Wohl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Citations (Scopus)


Societal inequality has been found to harm the mental and physical health of its members and undermine overall social cohesion. Here, we tested the hypothesis that economic inequality is associated with a wish for a strong leader in a study involving 28 countries from five continents (Study 1, N = 6,112), a study involving an Australian community sample (Study 2, N = 515), and two experiments (Study 3a, N = 96; Study 3b, N = 296). We found correlational (Studies 1 and 2) and experimental (Studies 3a and 3b) evidence for our prediction that higher inequality enhances the wish for a strong leader. We also found that this relationship is mediated by perceptions of anomie, except in the case of objective inequality in Study 1. This suggests that societal inequality enhances the perception that society is breaking down (anomie) and that a strong leader is needed to restore order (even when that leader is willing to challenge democratic values).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1625-1637
Number of pages13
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


  • anomie
  • authoritarianism
  • economic inequality
  • leadership
  • populism
  • preregistered
  • subjective and objective inequality


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