The Ideational Foundations of Symbolic Ideology

Paul Goren, Matthew Motta, Brianna Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Theories of symbolic ideology view it as an affective orientation untouched by ideational content. Drawing on Shalom Schwartz's theory of basic human values, we propose that four bedrock values—universalism, openness to change, conservation, and self-enhancement—shape symbolic ideology. We explore whether politically sophisticated and unsophisticated individuals ground symbolic ideological identities in cognitive values to a comparable degree. Using data from two nationally representative U.S. surveys, we find that universalism and conservation predict liberal-conservative attachments for people at all levels of sophistication. By contrast, openness to change and self-enhancement values appear to have little influence on symbolic ideology. The universalism and conservation effects hold controlling for multiple psychological and individual differences variables. These results suggest that ideational predispositions play a substantial role in shaping symbolic ideology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-94
Number of pages20
JournalPolitical Psychology
Issue numberS1
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Thanks to Jason Reifler and William Chittick for leading the 2011 YouGov data collection effort. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Paul Goren, Department of Political Science, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA. E-mail:

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 International Society of Political Psychology


  • basic human values
  • political sophistication
  • symbolic ideology


Dive into the research topics of 'The Ideational Foundations of Symbolic Ideology'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this