Neoliberal Ideology and the Justification of Inequality in Capitalist Societies: Why Social and Economic Dimensions of Ideology Are Intertwined

Flavio Azevedo, John T. Jost, Tobias Rothmund, Joanna Sterling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this article we analyze data from high-quality surveys conducted in the United States and the United Kingdom that included multiple symbolic and operational measures of political ideology and psychological orientations. Our overarching goal is to elucidate the nature of conceptual and empirical connections between neoliberalism and social conservatism. In so doing, we revisit three major questions about public opinion in neoliberal societies: (1) Are ordinary citizens “innocent” of ideology? (2) Are social and economic dimensions of ideology structurally and functionally independent? (3) Are support for laissez-faire capitalism and opposition to welfare—hallmarks of neoliberal ideology—unrelated or negatively related to authoritarianism? In contrast to previous investigations relying upon fewer and poorer measures, we found that ordinary citizens do indeed hold coherent political attitudes, and their attitudes about social and economic issues are closely aligned. For instance, we observed that for five previously published ideological instruments, social and economic attitudes were robustly correlated in two large U.S. samples (with rs ranging from.40 to.69)—for respondents who were relatively low (.31 ≤ r ≤.60) as well as high in political sophistication (.50 ≤ r ≤.77). Contradicting prior claims, we found no evidence that support for the free market was negatively associated with authoritarianism for any group of respondents or any measure of authoritarianism. On the contrary, economic conservatism and the endorsement of neoliberal attitudes were strongly associated with right-wing authoritarianism, social dominance orientation, economic system justification, and gender-specific system justification (with rs ranging from.53 to.76). We conclude that the political belief systems of ordinary citizens are coherently organized around support for versus opposition to both social and economic forms of inequality in contemporary capitalist societies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-88
Number of pages40
JournalJournal of Social Issues
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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