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Keywords:

  • purposive and material beliefs;
  • policy compromise;
  • polarization;
  • experts;
  • biotechnology policy

Much of the political science literature argues that commitment to beliefs renders the attitudes of policy actors inflexible. Belief commitment encourages alliances among actors who think alike and creates a distance with those whose beliefs differ. As it cuts the flow of information between disagreeing actors, belief commitment constrains the attitudes of actors to consistency across a variety of objects and over time, preventing policy compromises. This article examines the possibility that different beliefs have different effects on attitude. Specifically, it hypothesizes that actors holding purposive beliefs have more consistent attitudes than actors holding material beliefs. Thanks to a survey of North American and European biotechnology policy actors, conducted twice between 2006 and 2008, it is shown that a strong commitment to purposive beliefs encourages attitude consistency across objects and over time, while equal commitment to material beliefs enables more attitude flexibility. Implications for democracy and policy-making compromises are discussed.