Basic Personal Values Underlie and Give Coherence to Political Values: A Cross National Study in 15 Countries

Abstract

Do the political values of the general public form a coherent system? What might be the source of coherence? We view political values as expressions, in the political domain, of more basic personal values. Basic personal values (e.g., security, achievement, benevolence, hedonism) are organized on a circular continuum that reflects their conflicting and compatible motivations. We theorize that this circular motivational structure also gives coherence to political values. We assess this theorizing with data from 15 countries, using eight core political values (e.g., free enterprise, law and order) and ten basic personal values. We specify the underlying basic values expected to promote or oppose each political value. We offer different hypotheses for the 12 non-communist and three post-communist countries studied, where the political context suggests different meanings of a basic or political value. Correlation and regression analyses support almost all hypotheses. Moreover, basic values account for substantially more variance in political values than age, gender, education, and income. Multidimensional scaling analyses demonstrate graphically how the circular motivational continuum of basic personal values structures relations among core political values. This study strengthens the assumption that individual differences in basic personal values play a critical role in political thought.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We refer to ‘political values’ because that term is common in the political science literature. They might also be called ‘political attitudes’ because they are generally conceptualized and measured as evaluations of politically relevant objects.

  2. 2.

    We provide relatively brief rationales for each hypothesis. By considering the congruence of the core political values with the definitions of the basic personal values and with their dynamic underpinnings described above, one can elaborate these rationales more fully.

  3. 3.

    Hypotheses that differ for the post-communist countries appear in parentheses.

  4. 4.

    We excluded the three countries that had negative net migration during the years preceding the study (Brazil, Poland, and Ukraine) from consideration because the questions about accepting immigrants may not have been meaningful there. We also excluded Israel, for reasons noted below.

  5. 5.

    Across countries, the majority of high modification indexes referred to cross-loadings of negatively worded items or to correlated uniqueness among items worded in the same direction. Numerous negatively worded items had standardized loadings <0.3 on their presumed factor and/or reduced the internal reliability of the summed scale of their political value.

  6. 6.

    Kenny and McCoach (2003) note that even in correctly specified models CFI tends to worsen as the number of variables in a model grows large.

  7. 7.

    One of the two positively worded civil liberties items was inadvertently left out in the German study. Hence, we could not include civil liberties in the German analyses.

  8. 8.

    The correlations for each country are available from the first author.

  9. 9.

    We do not include hypotheses for accepting immigrants in this count because we did not test them in Poland and Ukraine (see footnote 3). In Slovakia, all seven hypotheses for accepting immigrants were supported.

  10. 10.

    The coordinates for the overall MDS and for each country are available from the first author.

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Acknowledgments

This paper was partly supported by the HSE Basic Research Program (International Laboratory of Socio-cultural Research).

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This research complies with the laws of the countries in which it was conducted.

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Correspondence to Shalom H. Schwartz.

Appendices

Appendix A: Exemplary PVQ Items, Organized by Higher Order Values, Male & Female Examples

Here we briefly describe some people. Please read each description and think about how much each person is or is not like you. Put an X in the box to the right that shows how much the person in the description is like you.

Self Enhancement

  • [Power] It is important to him to be in charge and tell others what to do. He wants people to do what he says.

  • [Achievement] Being very successful is important to her. She likes to impress other people.

Openness to Change

  • [Hedonism] Enjoying life’s pleasures is important to him. He likes to ‘spoil’ himself.

  • [Stimulation] She likes surprises. It is important to her to have an exciting life.

  • [Self-Direction] It is important to him to be independent. He likes to rely on himself.

Self-Transcendence

  • [Universalism] She wants everyone to be treated justly, even people she doesn’t know. It is important to her to protect the weak in society.

  • [Benevolence] It’s very important to him to help the people around him. He wants to care for their well-being.

Conservation

  • [Tradition] She thinks it is best to do things in traditional ways. It is important to her to keep up the customs she has learned.

  • [Conformity] It is important to him always to behave properly. He wants to avoid doing anything people would say is wrong.

  • [Security] It is important to her to live in secure surroundings. She avoids anything that might endanger her safety.

Appendix B: Items used to measure seven core political values used in the study

Table 6

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Schwartz, S.H., Caprara, G.V., Vecchione, M. et al. Basic Personal Values Underlie and Give Coherence to Political Values: A Cross National Study in 15 Countries. Polit Behav 36, 899–930 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-013-9255-z

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Keywords

  • Political values
  • Basic personal values
  • Value coherence
  • Structure of political thought