Intuitive Politics: How Moral Intuitions Shape Political Identities and Behavior

42 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 27 Aug 2011

See all articles by Bradley Jones

Bradley Jones

University of Wisconsin - Madison

Date Written: 2011


In this paper, I lay the groundwork for a new understanding of the origins and consequences of individual political predispositions. Borrowing from recent work in moral psychology, I adopt an intuitionist model. The theory suggests that a diverse set of deep moral intuitions – concerns for care, fairness, loyalty, respect, and purity – structure and constrain cognition in important ways. When individuals are confronted with political stimuli, flashes of positive or negative affect are causally prior to rational considerations. Because it offers a way to open the “black-box” of political predispositions, this new perspective has the potential to structure an integrated theory of individual attitudes and political behavior. I test the claims of the theory with nationally representative survey data collected in 2008. I develop hypotheses that link the intuitions to political orientations and behavior. With estimates of individuals’ moral intuitions derived from a multidimensional item response model, I demonstrate the hypothesized relationships between intuitions and political identification. Individual differences in moral intuitions accounts for differences in partisanship, partisan stability and vote choice in primary and general elections. My results show that the intuitionist model has the potential to greatly increase our understanding of how individuals interact with the political world.

Keywords: moral foundations theory, party identification, vote choice, 2008 elections

Suggested Citation

Jones, Bradley, Intuitive Politics: How Moral Intuitions Shape Political Identities and Behavior (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Bradley Jones (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin - Madison ( email )

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Madison, WI 53706
United States

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