Moral Principles and Political Ideology: Exploring the Mediating Role of Abstract Value Endorsements
Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Christina Reyna, Ph.D.
Verena Graupmann, Ph.D.
Much research has examined the association between political ideology and endorsement of distinct moral principles (e.g. Goren, 2005; Haidt & Graham, 2007; Haidt & Joseph, 2004). The associations that have typically been observed show that political liberals tend to endorse moral principles that place the individual at the center of concern, resulting in judgments of right and wrong based on caring for individuals and promoting fairness (individualizing foundations); while political conservatives tend to endorse moral principles that include the group as an equally worthy recipient of concern and priority (binding foundations), resulting in moral judgments based on maintaining and preserving important traditions, hierarchies, and social systems as well as caring for individuals and promoting fairness (Moral Foundations Theory, Haidt & Graham, 2007; Haidt & Joseph, 2004). However, research has also shown that endorsement of certain moral principles could be a result of adhering to specific political ideologies (i.e. liberalism versus conservatism) (Goren, 2005; Jost, Federico, & Napier, 2009). In addition, research has also shown that endorsement of abstract values, or overarching principles that guide our behavior, our judgment of others’ behavior, and assist us in explaining our choices, actions, beliefs, and intentions (e.g. universalism, egalitarianism, traditionalism, Schwartz, 1992), are associated with both political ideology and with endorsement of moral principles (Sverdlik, Roccas, & Sagiv, 2012).
The main goals of the current research were to 1) provide an experimental test of the causal link from endorsement of moral foundations to endorsement of specific political ideology predicted by moral foundations theory researchers and to provide an experimental test of the causal direction of endorsement of specific political ideology to endorsement of specific moral foundations predicted by some political science researchers, and 2) propose a role for abstract value endorsements as a mediator between both the morals-to-ideology link and the ideology-to- morals link. In order to accomplish these goals, I conducted two studies that each examined one direction of the causal link between political ideology and endorsement of moral principles. Study 1 manipulated endorsement of moral foundations (increase individualizing foundations versus increase binding foundations conditions) through a writing task and measured responses to questions assessing abstract value endorsement and political ideology. Study 2 manipulated endorsement of political ideology (increase conservatism versus decrease conservatism conditions), also through a writing task, and measured responses to abstract values and moral foundations questions.
For Study 1, I expected that those in the increase individualizing foundations condition would report more liberal leaning political ideology and that those in the increase binding foundations conditions would report more conservative political ideology. However, these associations would be mediated by endorsement of certain abstract values associated with the primed moral foundations. For Study 2, I expected that those in the increase conservatism condition would report greater endorsement of binding foundations and that those in the decrease conservatism condition would report greater endorsement of individualizing foundations. Again, these associations would be mediated by endorsement of specific abstract values associated with the primed political ideology.
The results of Study 1 were inconclusive at best. Manipulating one’s moral foundation endorsement had no effect on their political ideology or their endorsement of specific abstract values within the context of this study. The current research showed that it is difficult to manipulate people’s locus of moral concern, which in turn makes it difficult to predict how those concerns will relate to their political ideology. The Study 2 data revealed that a relationship does exist between political ideology and moral principle endorsement and that this relationship was at least partially explained by the values that one endorsed. While the Study 1 was unsuccessful at manipulating moral foundation endorsement, it did shed some light on areas for future research to further address the methodological shortcomings. By taking into account the presented suggestions for future research, it may be possible to more clearly identify the causal role that moral concerns may have on one’s political ideology. And even though the results of Study 2 are not completely conclusive, they get us on the right track to further discovering the complex relationship between ideology, morality, and values.
Washburn, Anthony N., "Moral Principles and Political Ideology: Exploring the Mediating Role of Abstract Value Endorsements" (2013). College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations. 53.