Changes in authoritarianism before and during the Covid-19 pandemic: Comparisons of latent means across East and West Germany, gender, age, and education
Modern theories of authoritarianism have stressed the importance of threat to the expression of authoritarian attitudes and intolerance. Arguably, authoritarian tendencies may have increased during COVID-19 pandemic, a major threat to life and security. One issue arising when comparing mean scores is that of measurement invariance. Meaningful comparisons are only possible, if latent constructs are similar between groups and/or across time. This prerequisite is rarely ever tested in research on authoritarianism. In this study, we aim to analyze the short scale for authoritarianism KSA-3 by investigating its measurement invariance on two levels (three first-order and one second-order factors) and latent mean changes using two German representative samples (N = 4,905). Specifically, we look at differences before and during the pandemic (2017 vs. 2020). While measurement invariance holds across both levels in all conditions, we find a decrease in latent means in 2020, contrary to expectations and established theories. Moreover, latent means differ with regard to gender, education, and east–west Germany. We conclude that analyses of latent means and measurement invariance instead of mean comparisons with composites should become the standard. Future studies should focus on threat as a moderator between authoritarianism and intolerance, and on possible interactions with context variables.