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

Paul Goren, Harald Schoen, Jason Reifler, Thomas Scotto, William Chittick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)977-997
Number of pages21
JournalPolitical Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016


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

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