The aim of this project is to explain fundamental political attitudes as the products of universal values. Anyone attuned to American politics know that the political parties differ in many ways. In social psychology, differences among groups have been explained by differences in fundamental values: basic motivations that construct our world-views. Borrowing from this large literature, this project takes standard measures of universal values developed by Shalon Schwartz (1992) and shows how these values structure political attitudes. While political scientists have long talked about core values, previous research has operationalized concepts like "individualism" with policy-laden questions. Using the values-based questions from the Schwartz Value Inventory, policy is not mentioned, though the construct being measure (on face) is the same.

The 56 items that form the Schwartz inventory measure two basic dimensions of human values taht have been verified across multiple cultural and religious settings and have been tested in over 20 languages. In every case, researchers have found the same two motivating dimensions for human values. If values truly motivate political attitudes, the variance should be partially explained by universal values in understanding measures as diverse as partisan identification, conservatism, authoritarianism, and social dominance orientation. This study uses a national sample of undergraduate students and their parents to test the intergenerational transmission of these values, which would help address how partisanship is so highly correlated with parents' partisanship.

At the basic level this research can help us understand what really divides Americans across partisan and ideological lines, indentifying differences in fundamental world-views. The broader social value of such research is that understanding the different ways Americans see problems can help all sides better understand each other and move from antagonistic rhetoric to a consciousness of difference.

Project Report

My dissertation examined the micro-foundations of American political partisanship through universal values. Developed by Shalom Schwartz (1994), these items have been shown to predict many different life choices in a cross-cultural context. Using measures which ask individuals how important apolitical items like "curiousity" or "harmony" are, we can explain a significant amount of variance in American partisanship. In brief, these values load on two major dimensions: self-enhancement opposed with self-transcendence and conservation opposed to openness to change. The following are the main findings from my thesis. Overall, the multi-method project shows that personal values are deeply connected to partisanship. As I was fortunate enough to get funding from the National Science Foundation, a book manuscript is currently being prepared. The intended audience of this book is those who study the psychology of American politics, parties, campaigns and voting behavior. Summary findings: The correlation across generations (a large sample of parents and children) shows that values, like political attitudes, are shared with our parents; Personal values, not partisanship or issue attitudes, predict which careers college students find attractive; Manipulating a candidate's values and party label, via a national survey experiment, shows that values, more than partisanship, drive affective ratings of candidates for public office; Personal values drive intra-party cleavages. The more one differs from their party, on either value dimension, the more likely they are to hold an opposing position on a number of issues; Democrats and Republicans re-ordered their values following the economic downturn of 2008, and responded in systematically different ways. While both groups valued financial security type items more in 2010 than in 2006, those who identified as Democrats began to value helping others and equality of opportunity while Republicans made each of these values less of a priority. Schwartz, S. H. 1994. "Are There Universal Aspects in the Structure and Contents of Human Values?" Journal of Social Issues 50(4): 19–45.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Brian D. Humes
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Duke University
United States
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