Normalization of the Alt-Right: How perceived prevalence and acceptability of the Alt-Right is linked to public attitudes

American being waved by a person

In a recent project published in Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, Social Psychology alumna Hema Preya Selvanathan ‘19PhD and Associate Professor Bernard Leidner PhD explored how the public is responding to the rise of far-right movements within the United States.

The researchers examined the role of normative beliefs (i.e., your perception of how people who are important to you may expect you to behave) about the Alt-Right in determining public reactions toward these movements. They looked into how “perceived prevalence and acceptability of the Alt-Right are linked to public attitudes toward the Alt-Right.” Results showed perceived prevalence of the Alt-Right did not increase negative attitudes or feelings of being threatened by this group. However, perceived acceptability of the Alt-Right showed more positive attitudes toward the group, such as tolerating their activities even if they targeted minorities. Overall, the study showed an effect of normalization of the Alt-Right.

Selvanathan states, "Our measure of norms is getting at what participants think other U.S. Americans feel about the Alt-Right, and here is where we see a strong link between perceived norms and pro Alt-Right attitudes. I think far-right social movements like the Alt-Right can be viewed as promoting cultural shifts in society because they could change the normative standards in a society (i.e., in this context, what Americans consider to be acceptable or typical)."

A large cross-national study involving international collaborators will follow up on this research. The team will look at the effects of far-right movements in different countries and begin by examining their media exposure.