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Staerklé, C. (2009). Policy Attitudes, Ideological Values and Social Representations. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 3, 1096-1112.

Policy Attitudes, Ideological Values and Social Representations

Christian Staerklé University of Lausanne, Switzerland

Address for correspondence: Christian Staerklé University of Lausanne Faculty of Social and Political Sciences Institute for Social Sciences Bâtiment Vidy 1015 Lausanne Switzerland christian.staerkle@unil.ch

Author note: We thank Eva G.T. Green for helpful comments on an earlier version of this article.

Policy Attitudes and Ideological Values

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Abstract This article reviews research on policy attitudes and ideological values from the perspective of social representations theory. In the first part of the paper, key features of lay political thinking are presented, its pragmatic imperative, its focus on communication and the social functions of shared knowledge. Objectification transforms abstract and group-neutral ideological values into concrete and socially useful knowledge, in particular stereotypes of value-conforming and value-violating groups. Such shared understandings of intergroup relations provide citizens with common reference knowledge which provides the cognitive and cultural basis of policy attitudes. Social representations theory further suggests that lay knowledge reflects the social context in which it has been elaborated (“anchoring”), an aspect which allows conceptualising aggregate-level differences in policy attitudes. In the second part of the paper, a model of lay conceptions of social order is outlined which organises four shared conceptions of social order, along with the stereotype-based thinking associated with each conception: Moral order, Free Market, Social diversity and Structural inequality. We conclude by arguing that policy attitudes are symbolic devices expressed to justify or to challenge existing social arrangements.

Policy Attitudes and Ideological Values Policy Attitudes, Ideological Values and Social Representations In democratic societies it often seems that citizens are not well equipped to take an informed stance towards important social and political issues (Delli Carpini & Keeter, 1996) and that considerable variation in citizens’ political expertise hampers effective participation in democratic debate (Converse, 2000). Taking a perspective of lay political thinking, the present article puts such alarmist claims into perspective. It argues that most citizens are actually aware of political alternatives, but not necessarily in their expert formulations. They

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know the kind of society they are attracted to and the models of society they oppose, in terms of its level of cultural diversity, individual freedom or social equality, for example. Citizens express such preferences in attitudes and opinions towards a wide range of social, economic and legal policies that are destined to achieve political goals, for example the upholding of public order or the reduction of economic inequalities. Accordingly, policy attitudes refer to individual evaluations concerning the desirability and legitimacy of different models of society. The present contribution offers a social psychological approach to policy attitudes from the perspective of political lay thinking, with a focus on the influence of ideological values on policy attitudes. The discussion of policy attitudes and values is built upon social representations theory which provides a conceptual framework of lay thinking and everyday communication (Augoustinos, Walker & Donaghue, 2006; Deaux & Philogène, 2001; Doise, Clémence & Lorenzi-Cioldi, 1993; Moscovici, 1961/2008; Wagner & Hayes, 2005). We first consider research on ambivalent political attitudes and highlight the social and relational foundations of ideological values. In the second part of the paper, we outline a model of lay conceptions of social order which links multiple ideological values...
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