The RWA Scale

Survey and associated text ©2006 Bob Altemeyer.
Web adaptation by Chris W. Johnson.
Revised 2-Dec-2020.

This survey is part of an investigation of general public opinion concerning a variety of social issues. You will probably find that you agree with some of the statements, and disagree with others, to varying extents. Please indicate your reaction to each statement according to the following scale:

-4=You very strongly disagree with the statement.
-3=You strongly disagree with the statement.
-2=You moderately disagree with the statement.
-1=You slightly disagree with the statement.
0=You feel exactly and precisely neutral about the statement.
1=You slightly agree with the statement.
2=You moderately agree with the statement.
3=You strongly agree with the statement.
4=You very strongly agree with the statement.

Important: You may find that you sometimes have different reactions to different parts of a statement. For example, you might very strongly disagree (“-4”) with one idea in a statement, but slightly agree (“+1”) with another idea in the same item. When this happens, please combine your reactions, and [record] how you feel on balance (a “-3” in this case).

-4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4
1 The established authorities generally turn out to be right about things, while the radicals and protestors are usually just “loud mouths” showing off their ignorance.
2 Women should have to promise to obey their husbands when they get married.
3 Our country desperately needs a mighty leader who will do what has to be done to destroy the radical new ways and sinfulness that are ruining us.
4 Gays and lesbians are just as healthy and moral as anybody else.
5 It is always better to trust the judgment of the proper authorities in government and religion than to listen to the noisy rabble-rousers in our society who are trying to create doubt in people’s minds.
6 Atheists and others who have rebelled against the established religions are no doubt every bit as good and virtuous as those who attend church regularly.
7 The only way our country can get through the crisis ahead is to get back to our traditional values, put some tough leaders in power, and silence the troublemakers spreading bad ideas.
8 There is absolutely nothing wrong with nudist camps.
9 Our country needs free thinkers who have the courage to defy traditional ways, even if this upsets many people.
10 Our country will be destroyed someday if we do not smash the perversions eating away at our moral fiber and traditional beliefs.
11 Everyone should have their own lifestyle, religious beliefs, and sexual preferences, even if it makes them different from everyone else.
12 The “old-fashioned ways” and the “old-fashioned values” still show the best way to live.
13 You have to admire those who challenged the law and the majority’s view by protesting for women’s abortion rights, for animal rights, or to abolish school prayer.
14 What our country really needs is a strong, determined leader who will crush evil, and take us back to our true path.
15 Some of the best people in our country are those who are challenging our government, criticizing religion, and ignoring the “normal way things are supposed to be done.”
16 God’s laws about abortion, pornography and marriage must be strictly followed before it is too late, and those who break them must be strongly punished.
17 There are many radical, immoral people in our country today, who are trying to ruin it for their own godless purposes, whom the authorities should put out of action.
18 A “woman’s place” should be wherever she wants to be. The days when women are submissive to their husbands and social conventions belong strictly in the past.
19 Our country will be great if we honor the ways of our forefathers, do what the authorities tell us to do, and get rid of the “rotten apples” who are ruining everything.
20 There is no “one right way” to live life; everybody has to create their own way.
21 Homosexuals and feminists should be praised for being brave enough to defy “traditional family values.”
22 This country would work a lot better if certain groups of troublemakers would just shut up and accept their group’s traditional place in society.

Your score on the RWA scale is .

Scores will range from 20 to 180. Yours falls at % within that range.

The lowest total possible would be 20, and the highest, 180, but real scores are almost never that extreme. Introductory psychology students at my Canadian university average about 75. Their parents average about 90. Both scores are below the mid-point of the scale, which is 100, so most people in these groups are not authoritarian followers in absolute terms. Neither are most Americans, it seems. Mick McWilliams and Jeremy Keil administered the RWA scale to a reasonably representative sample of 1000 Americans in 2005 for the Libertarian Party and discovered an average score of 90. Thus the Manitoba parent samples seem similar in overall authoritarianism to a representative American adult sample. My Manitoba students score about the same on the RWA scale as most American university students do too.

Let me give you three compelling reasons why you should treat your personal score with a grain of salt. First, psychological tests make mistakes about individuals, which is what you happen to be, I’ll bet. Even the best instruments, such as the best IQ tests, get it wrong sometimes—as I think most people know. Thus the RWA scale can’t give sure-thing diagnoses of individuals. (But it can reliably identify levels of authoritarianism in groups, because too-high errors and too-low errors tend to even out in big samples. So we’ll do the group grope [here], and not go on the individual counseling trip.)

Second, how you responded to the items depended a lot on how you interpreted them. You may have writhed in agony wondering, “What does he mean by _______?” as you answered. If I failed often to get the gist of what I was saying over to you, your score will certainly be misleading.

Third, you knew what the items were trying to measure, didn’t you, you rascal! The RWA scale is a personality test disguised as an attitude survey, but I’ll bet you saw right through it. In fact, you could probably take each statement apart and see how I was trying to slyly tap the various components of the RWA personality trait. Take that first-scored item, No. 3: “Our country desperately needs a mighty leader (authoritarian submission) who will do what has to be done to destroy (authoritarian aggression) the radical new ways and sinfulness that are ruining us” (conventionalism). Well if you’re smart enough to do that, you’re smart enough to realize how easily you might have slanted your answers to look good.

So I didn’t ask you to answer the RWA scale to see if you’d find true happiness and fulfillment as a stormtrooper in some dictator’s army. It’s not a vocational test. Instead, I wanted you to experience for yourself the instrument used to identify and study authoritarian followers. Most of what I have uncovered about authoritarianism, I have dug up with this tool, and now you know what it is and how it works.

Is the RWA Scale Valid?

According to the High Laws of Science (you do not have to genuflect here), ideas must be repeatedly tested to see if they fail. So the next (and extremely important) question is, does the RWA scale really measure what it says it measures? Are the test scores valid? If they are, we should find that high scorers submit to established authority more than most people do, aggress more in the name of such authority, and are much more conventional. What’s the evidence?

This topic is examined on pages 15 to 29 of chapter 1 of The Authoritarians, exceeding what seems reasonable to reproduce here. Fortunately, the entire book is available online, and offline, in a choice of formats.

Survey and associated text ©2006 Bob Altemeyer. This web page was adapted by Chris W. Johnson from Dr. Altemeyer’s book The Authoritarians, pp. 10-15, chapter 1. Any mistakes are my fault, not Dr. Altemeyer’s. The survey’s text is untouched by this adaptation, but some surrounding text received minor changes. For instance, the instructions for computing one’s RWA score are omitted, because this page computes it automatically. (However, you may be interested to know questions 1 and 2 are ignored. Altemeyer explained, “I put those items on the test to give people some experience with the -4 to +4 response system. They’re just ‘warm-ups.’”) Also, footnotes are omitted. See the book for those details, including the definition of “Right Wing Authoritarians” on page 9 of chapter 1, which may not be the emotionally-charged pejorative some would expect; notably, “[…] the word ‘right’ [is used] in one of its earliest meanings, for in Old English ‘riht’ (pronounced ‘writ’) as an adjective meant lawful, proper, correct, doing what the authorities said.”

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