Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Distinguishing between the Structural and Ideological Components of System Justification
by Langer, Melanie Sharon, Ph.D., New York University, 2019, 125; 13807584
Abstract (Summary)

Individuals often support and defend a status quo that disadvantages them. System justification theory posits that this behavior stems from a widespread and often unconscious motivation to defend one’s system, despite the system’s flaws, and that this tendency is a powerful force motivating the adoption of political ideology. While it has consistently been found to be associated with political conservatism, and is inherently conservative as the tendency to defend the status quo, the present studies demonstrate that under certain circumstances, it can be associated with leftist or centrist ideology.

I first give a brief overview of system justification, distinguishing between its structural features of entailing support for the social system, regardless of the system’s content, and its inherent ideological link with political conservatism, as the tendency to defend and maintain the status quo. I call attention to when a left-leaning dominant ideology may be associated with system justification, and in part one, give evidence of system justification’s association with leftism in France. I suggest that France, with its rich tradition of secular humanism and social protection, provides an example of a left-leaning system that is sufficiently historically and politically entrenched to affect the relationship between ideology and system justification.

Drawing on a nationally representative sample of over 24,000 French respondents, I investigate the effects of system justification, political orientation, and the related constructs of authoritarianism and social dominance orientation on attitudes about Islam, immigrants, and refugees, as well as the relationship between system justification and ideological self-placement. Results reveal that high system-justifiers in France are more likely to place themselves to the left than the right, and are more rather than less supportive of ethnic and religious minorities.

Next I explore system justification’s role in moderating the relationship between extreme attitudes and life dissatisfaction, and support for extreme parties and candidates, in France, Germany, and the UK. Throughout much of Europe and North America, mainstream center-left and center-right parties that have dominated electoral competition for decades have been losing electoral support to parties from the far-left and far-right. Especially in Western Europe, minor political parties and new political coalitions that were on the fringes of the political system have increasingly challenged the status quo and become dominant players. Past research on anti-establishment voters has emphasized voter dissatisfaction, opposition to inequality, and backlash against immigration. Here I investigate the hypothesis that system justification motivation attenuates the effect of support for anti-establishment politics by reducing system-challenging political attitudes (ethnic intolerance, demand for income redistribution, negative evaluations of the economy, and opposition to membership in the E.U.) and life dissatisfaction on vote choice. In nationally representative surveys conducted in France, Germany, and the U.K., system justification was positively associated with support for establishment parties and negatively associated with support for anti-establishment parties. Furthermore, system justification moderated the effects of system-challenging attitudes and sources of personal discontent on support for anti-establishment parties.

I take these findings as contributing to the scientific understanding of the nature of system justification, specifically how system justification’s structural and ideological features do not uniformly move individuals to the right, but rather in the direction of the dominant ideology and what is perceived as protective of the current system. I hope the present studies will open avenues for future research on the relationship between system justification and ideology and on alternative ways of harnessing the power of system justification to impact ideology and vote choice.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Jost, John T.
Commitee: Knowles, Eric, Rhodes, Marjorie, Craig, Maureen, Samii, Cyrus
School: New York University
Department: Psychology
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 81/2(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Social psychology, Social structure, Political science
Keywords: Ideology, Political psychology, System justification, Vote choice
Publication Number: 13807584
ISBN: 9781085670920
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