Original Paper

Political Behavior

, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 807-829

First online:

The Dynamics of Public Opinion on Cultural Policy Issues in the U.S., 1972–2010

  • Kenneth MulliganAffiliated withSouthern Illinois University Email author 
  • , Tobin GrantAffiliated withSouthern Illinois University
  • , Daniel BennettAffiliated withSouthern Illinois University

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This study investigates the dynamics of public opinion on cultural policy issues over the past four decades. We find collective opinions on many such issues follow the same path over time, driven by an underlying cultural policy mood (CPM). We use more than 2,000 survey marginals, nested in more than 200 time series, that reflect aggregate opinions in 16 cultural policy domains, across 38 years. Using a dynamic principal components method, the results show that since the early 1970s, CPM has moved steadily and consistently in a liberal direction. Over this period, changes in CPM have been tightly linked to changes in aggregate religiosity. Opinion on two notable cultural issues—the death penalty and abortion—do not follow CPM. While public opinion has grown increasingly anti-death-penalty for more than a decade, over roughly the same period it has become as pro-life on abortion as at any time since Roe v. Wade. The measurement of CPM provides evidence of a macro construct of cultural issues that includes opinion toward many, but not all, morality policies.


Public opinion Policy mood Collective preferences Morality policy Cultural policy Abortion Abortion rights Roe v. Wade Gay rights Death penalty Time series