The Social and Political Implications of Moral Conviction



Scholars often assume that some issues globally evoke moral reactions, whether these issues are presented as moral dilemmas (e.g., trolley problems) or as controversial issues of the day (e.g., the legal status of abortion). There is considerable individual variation, however, in the degree that people report that their position on specific issues reflects a core moral conviction. This chapter reviews theory and research that explores the role moral conviction plays in predicting people's political thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Variance in moral conviction associated with specific issues has important social and political consequences, such as predicting increased political engagement (voting, willingness to engage in activism), inoculation against the usual pressures to obey authorities and the law, and greater acceptance of violent solutions to conflict. The normative implications of these and other findings are both reassuring (moral conviction can protect against obedience to potentially malevolent authorities) and terrifying (moral conviction is associated with rejection of the rule of law and can provide a motivational foundation for violent protest and acts of terrorism).