Political Behavior

, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 977–997

A Unified Theory of Value-Based Reasoning and U.S. Public Opinion

  • Paul Goren
  • Harald Schoen
  • Jason Reifler
  • Thomas Scotto
  • William Chittick
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s11109-016-9344-x

Cite this article as:
Goren, P., Schoen, H., Reifler, J. et al. Polit Behav (2016) 38: 977. doi:10.1007/s11109-016-9344-x


Public opinion research shows that American citizens utilize domain-specific political values to guide opinion formation in the key issue areas that comprise the American political agenda. One set of political values operates on economic welfare opinions, a different set of values applies to cultural issue positions, a third set shapes foreign policy preferences, and so on in other policy domains. Drawing on Shalom Schwartz’s theory of basic human values, this paper argues that two socially focused values—self-transcendence and conservation—guide opinion formation across all major policy domains. By contrast, the personally focused values of self-enhancement and openness-to-change should play a more limited role in preference formation. These hypotheses are tested using data from a novel 2011 national survey and the 2012 General Social Survey. The statistical results affirm expectations. We show that self-transcendence and conservation values predict scores on symbolic ideology, economic conservatism, racial conservatism, cultural conservatism, civil liberties, and foreign policy opinions. Self-enhancement and openness-to-change values play a modest role in shaping preferences.


Basic human values U.S. public opinion Domain-specific issues 

Supplementary material

11109_2016_9344_MOESM1_ESM.docx (114 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 113 kb)

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Goren
    • 1
  • Harald Schoen
    • 2
  • Jason Reifler
    • 3
  • Thomas Scotto
    • 4
  • William Chittick
    • 5
  1. 1.University of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  2. 2.University of MannheimMannheimGermany
  3. 3.University of ExeterExeterUK
  4. 4.University of StrathclydeGlasgowUK
  5. 5.University of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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