The Public's Compass: Moral Conviction and Political Attitudes

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Since most Americans are politically unsophisticated, but political attitudes are reasonably predictable, what is it that guides political behavior? This study suggests it is moral judgment. The article first lays down the mechanisms explaining the role of morality in attitude strength, extremity of attitude, tendency to issue voting, and participation, and then examines the extent these are accounted for by moral convictions. Sentimental and reasoned moral convictions are strong political cues, available to both ideological sides, and independent of political sophistication. Since political attitudes may be based on moral judgments that occur very quickly, via emotional and intuitive responses, coherent public opinion does not require unusual levels of political competence and motivation.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)937-964
Number of pages28
JournalAmerican Politics Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/ or publication of this article: I gratefully acknowledge the generous financial support from the National Science Foundation (NSF Grant No. 0917998) and the Marie Curie Grant of the 7th European Community Framework Programme (CIG Grant No. 293769).


  • morality
  • political attitudes


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