Skip to main content

The Moderating Role of Democratic Governance in the Association between Personal Values and Political Ideologies (WP-22-32)

Eileen Wu and Daniel Molden

This analysis examined whether commonly assumed associations between personal values and political attitudes varied worldwide by the level of democratic governance within different countries. In less democratic countries, people may have less exposure to or engagement with value expression through political party affiliation and experience less motivation to express values through political attitudes. Therefore, in such countries, the commonly assumed association of personal values typically labeled “conservative” (e.g., tradition) or “liberal” (e.g., universalism) with right- or left-wing political ideologies could be weaker. Furthermore, less democratically governed countries are more likely to have centralized economic control as the norms, and such norms could alter the degree to which right-wing economic attitudes for free markets and private enterprise are associated with conservative values. Responses to the World Value Survey across 60 countries were largely consistent with these moderation effects when operationalizing democratic governance using both more objective, structural and subjective, perceptual metrics. In less democratic countries, conservation-oriented personal values were less positively associated with broad right-wing political identification, and self-transcendence-oriented personal values less positively associated with broad left-wing political identification. However, in less democratic countries, conservation-oriented personal values were more strongly and negatively associated with right-wing economic attitudes.


·         Conclusions from multi-country analyses challenged the universality of the widely assumed associations between personal values and political ideologies. In countries with lower levels of democratic governance, the association between values and ideology were attenuated: broad conservation values (e.g., tradition) were less positively related to rightwing political identification and broad self-transcendence values (e.g., universalism) were less positively related to left-wing political identification.

·         In contrast to the results for overall right- or left-wing political identification, lower country-level democratic governance was associated with stronger and more negative relationships between broad conservation values and right-wing economic attitudes.

·         The current research emphasized the importance of political context in predicting and inferring personal values from political ideology or vice versa and serves as a caution to public opinion researchers and policy makers who rely on such inferences.

Eileen Wu, Department of Psychology, Northwestern University

Daniel Molden, Associate Professor of Psychology and IPR Associate, Northwestern University

Download PDF