Moral Foundations and Heterogeneity in Ideological Preferences



Scholars have documented numerous examples of how liberals and conservatives differ in considering public policy. Recent work in political psychology has sought to understand these differences by detailing the ways in which liberals and conservatives approach political and social issues. In their moral foundations theory, Haidt and Joseph contend the divisions between liberals and conservatives are rooted in different views of morality. They demonstrate that humans consistently rely on five moral foundations. Two of these foundations—harm and fairness—are often labeled the individualizing foundations, as they deal with the role of individuals within social groups; the remaining three foundations—authority, ingroup loyalty, and purity—are the binding foundations as they pertain to the formation and maintenance of group bonds. Graham, Haidt, and Nosek demonstrate that liberals tend to disproportionately value the individualizing foundations, whereas conservatives value all five foundations equally. We extend this line of inquiry by examining whether different types of liberals and conservatives value the moral foundations to varying degrees. Using survey data (n = 745), we rely on a mixed-mode latent class analysis and identify six ideological classes that favor unique social and fiscal policy positions. While most of the respondents belonging to these classes self-identify as conservative, they endorse the moral foundations in varying degrees. Since our findings demonstrate considerable heterogeneity with respect to ideology and moral preferences, we conclude by encouraging scholars to consider this heterogeneity in detailing the motivational and psychological foundations of ideological belief.