Are There Core American Values?

54 Pages Posted: 18 Nov 2021

See all articles by Wayne E. Baker

Wayne E. Baker

University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business

Date Written: June 2012


Since the 1990s, a polarization narrative has developed that portrays the United States as a nation divided into opposed moral camps with irreconcilable views of the American way of life. A corollary of this national narrative is the assumption of a loss of core values that once united the nation. I treat the question of core values as an empirical one and provide an answer based on analyses of data from four national surveys. I propose the concept of “coreness” and develop an index of coreness composed of measures of six distributional properties: intensity, consensus, widespread agreement, unimodality, invariability, and stability. Analyzing twenty-two values, here I show that ten can be considered core American values: individualism, universalism, respect for others, symbolic patriotism, critical patriotism, equal opportunities, freedom of expression, hedonism, national security, and financial security. Cluster analysis reveals three categories of Americans based on patterns of agreement and disagreement on the twenty-two values: libertarian nationalists, political-religious conservatives, and young liberals. These clusters have different demographic, ideological, and religious profiles, but still share many core values. Their differences arise mainly from their divergent beliefs in the non-core values. Values are related to attitudes about healthcare, human gene modification, death penalty, immigrants, minorities, environment, and consumer confidence, but non-core values have bigger impacts than core values. This research is relevant to contemporary political and social debates and to the potential causal relationship of consensus to national identity and cultural cohesion, as well as an opportunity to advance research on the distributional properties of public opinion.

Keywords: values, polarization, national identity, ideologies, culture, public opinion

Suggested Citation

Baker, Wayne E., Are There Core American Values? (June 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Wayne E. Baker (Contact Author)

University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business ( email )

701 Tappan Street
Ann Arbor, MI MI 48109
United States
734-764-2306 (Phone)


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