Book chapter

Values and Public Opinion (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

It is established that values influence public opinion and political behavior. Multiple points of difference have emerged in the study of values and mass politics. First, different groups of scholars emphasize different sets of values. At the most fundamental level, researchers distinguish between core political values and core human values. Core political values are abstract beliefs about government, society, and public affairs. This line of research developed in political science. Core human values are abstract, transsituational beliefs about desirable end states and modes of conduct that can be rank-ordered in terms of personal importance. Human values are associated with research from social and cross-cultural psychology. The presence of two distinct streams of research raises questions about the conceptual, methodological, and theoretical differences between core political values and core human values. The principal differences are as follows. First, social psychologists define human values with greater conceptual precision, depth, and breadth than political scientists define political values. Second, the degree of semantic separation between the measures of values and political judgments is much greater for human values. This makes it harder for analysts to establish that values predict political opinions, and thus, serves as a conservative force in testing hypotheses about values-politics linkages in the public mind. As well, the empirical foundation validating the measurement of human values far surpasses the evidentiary basis validating political values. Third, theories of value-based reasoning and political choice are more plausible and possess greater analytical utility relative to political value theories. In short, human values are preferable to political values on conceptual, methodological, and theoretical grounds.