The cultural basis of political behaviour

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The cultural bases are always based on the theory of cleavages. When we talk about culture, what first comes to mind are values. First of all, we have to try to define what we mean by culture. Usually you get several different definitions. Then we're going to approach the idea of political culture by looking at a whole series of approaches that try to show the role of political culture and values, and particularly political values in explaining different forms of political behaviour.

Political Culture: Almond and Verba[edit | edit source]

When it comes to political culture, there is a key work written in 1963 entitled The Civic Culture by Almond and Verba.[8] These two authors wrote this book, which remains a reference work on the role of political culture. These authors have a rather particular approach to what political culture is and its role in the study of political behaviour. It can be argued that these two authors rely on the behaviourist approach and emphasize the role of political attitudes as the basis of political culture(s).

Both authors have conducted an empirical study. This was an innovation at the time. They analyze the impact of political culture and more specifically the impact of civic culture on political behaviour. To do so, they developed a comparative analysis of five countries, from the United States to Great Britain, Germany, Italy and Mexico. It is an empirical analysis conducted on the basis of individual survey data. The central question was how political culture can contribute to the maintenance and stability of democratic systems. This is a largely functionalist and even somewhat conservative approach because it presupposes that a political system has a certain stability and balance. The 1950s and 1960s in the United States was a period dominated by functionalist thinking which presupposed that society must have a certain balance and there are a lot of phenomena that create imbalances such as the process of globalization and then the system somehow finds a way to rebalance itself. They tried to explain the differences in democratic governance in the functioning of political systems. They have tried to explain the different democratic functioning of these five countries through the political attitudes and orientations as well as the political values of the citizens who compose and form this political system. The idea is to start from the analysis of individuals in order to go back to an idea of stability. In other words, it is the idea of micro-macro change. We have to go through individual political attitudes in order to explain something at the macro-political level, which is the political culture or civic culture that characterizes a nation or a superior unit. They focused on learning about policy directions in relation to politics and they emphasized the experience that citizens have of the political system.

To summarize their approach, they postulated a congruence between political culture and the structure of a democratic system. The political culture that is the source of the stability and good functioning of a political system stems from something that characterizes individuals, namely, political attitudes. We postulate an internalization of political attitudes through socialization. This political culture is the product of an aggregation of micro-political data, namely political attitudes. The basic idea is that there is a certain type of political culture that is more conducive to democracy and its proper functioning.

Civic Culture: Almond and Verba[edit | edit source]

Civic culture is understood as a political culture characterized by pluralism based on communication and persuasion, as well as a culture of consensus and diversity. It is a culture that enables change, but moderates it. It is through this that the good governmental performance of democracies was explained. There was a threshold of correspondence that was made between civic culture and democracy.

The behaviourist approach is something that results from the aggregation of individual characteristics and in particular from individual political attitudes.

Opinions, attitudes and values[edit | edit source]

These are three concepts that are often used interchangeably in both everyday and scientific language. They are three key concepts for studying political behaviour and in the social sciences. There is often confusion between attitude and opinion, but also confusion between attitude and value. It is especially this second confusion that is sometimes found in scientific works where some authors speak of attitudes and others of values and vice versa:

  • Opinions can be explained as expressions of thought about a given object or situation.
  • attitudes are the central concept because attitudes are acquired predispositions, more or less stable, to behave in a more or less specific way towards a given object or in a given situation. Attitude is always by reference to a given object. Partisan identification, which is one of the attitudes in the Michigan model, is in relation to something, it's an identification with a party. Institutional or political trust is always in relation to something.
  • values are not defined in relation to a specific object, but in relation to something much more general. They are non-directly observable conceptions of the desirable, used in moral discourse, with particular importance for behaviour.

The three characteristics of values[edit | edit source]

In The Impact of Values, Deth and Scarbrough define values by three characteristics.[9] These three characteristics have to be present in order for there to be values:

  • the values cannot be observed directly;
  • values involve moral considerations;
  • values are conceptions of the desirable.

It is a common denominator in all these definitions. Values are crucial in explaining political behaviour. Values set the frame of reference and guide action. We are always talking about a configuration of values. This configuration of attitudes and values is what is captured by the notion of value orientation. Inglehart, in his theory of postmaterialism, speaks precisely of "value orientations"; it is a coherent set of values. We also talk about value systems. A system evokes the idea that there are several elements that are coherently connected to each other. There is also the idea that values flow from or are the product of a coherent configuration of political attitudes.

Political values[edit | edit source]

What we are interested in are the political values that flow from a coherent configuration of political attitudes. Political values concern the political sphere and are the foundation of political behaviour. Political values guide political behaviour; they are orientations towards political objects. On the other hand, they are perceptions of the desirable order and allow political judgements to be made. There is a base of antecedence between these three concepts, namely the most distant concept which are the values that then structure or influence attitudes and influence opinions.

Three central value orientations for political change[edit | edit source]

These are three value orientations discussed in the literature and important in explaining political change, but also social change. The analysis of the cleavages is always based on the subjective component of the so-called identity cleavages. In each case, it is a question of the opposition of two value systems. The following three aspects are often dealt with in the study of political behaviour, be it the study of electoral behaviour or involvement in social movements. These three orientations can be seen in relation to Rokkan's theory of cleavages with the fact that European societies, over the last five centuries, have been characterised by a number of social oppositions and divisions which, at a certain point in time, have become political cleavages. Two of these Rokkan cleavages are the religious cleavage and the class cleavage. From a historical perspective, it is possible to see each of these oppositions as characterizing a type of society. For example, the religious-secular divide would characterize so-called traditional societies, the left-right divide would be the typical divide of modern society, the result of modernization and of the great transformations that have characterized this modernization with, in particular, the creation of the nation-state and the advent of capitalism, and the materialist-post-materialist divide that would characterize the post-industrial society or the advanced industrial society. It is possible to look at these value orientations as characterizing these societies from a historical perspective. What interests us is that today, these different value orientations coexist particularly within an electorate.

Effects related to the relationship between time, age and social change[edit | edit source]

How do value systems evolve, change over time and can then produce political and social change? When talking about social change, there are different types of effects that need to be known and identified. It's a complicated thing when you want to do it on empirical data, but it's a relatively simple thing. We must be aware that when we study social, cultural or values change or political change, we must be aware that this change can be the result of three different types of effects:

  • life-cycle effects: refer to the age-related biopsychological characteristics that correspond to each of the life-cycle stages that can influence attitudes and political behaviour. This is a micro level.
  • cohort effects: a group of people born in the same time interval, who share similar needs, interests and social experiences and who age together. It is also referred to as a political generation, which is a group of people who have shared an experience at a given point in time. This is a mesosociological level.
  • period effects: events and major currents belonging to historical time that influence the life cycle of individuals and the behaviour of an age group. It is an effect that affects the entire population. It is not related to the individual time of maturation, nor is it something related to the experience of an age group, but rather at a macro level, i.e. effects that affect all the different cohorts, individuals and the population as a whole.

These three effects are interrelated and linearly independent of each other. These three effects must be taken into account, being at the same time an individual maturation of individuals, a replacement of cohorts with different values, and it can also be the period effect with one or more important events that affected the whole population. According to Inglehart, the cohort effect is particularly important, it is the one that particularly takes up social change since the period effect is seen as something that does not have a lasting effect. The cohort effect is something that, through the replacement of different cohorts, tends to remain over time.

Example[edit | edit source]

Cohort effect[edit | edit source]

Comportement politique effet de cohorte 1.png

There is a very simple way using a double entry table to detect cohort or period effects. The life-cycle effect is kept constant. In this table, it's survey data that looks at the rate of voters who vote for a party and it crosses three cohorts. These cohorts are cross-tabulated with three time periods. It is possible to see that there is a difference between cohorts that remains systematically. There is a difference between the rows, but not between the columns, which means that there is a cohort effect and not a period effect, because if it were a period effect, there would be a systematic difference between two periods, meaning that each cohort is similar.

Period effect[edit | edit source]

Comportement politique effet de période 1.png

An event in 1974 increased political participation. This increase affects all three cohorts in a transversal way that remains similar, but at a higher level. There is the idea of a short period effect. It is by comparing the differences between the columns that we can say that there is a period effect. It is possible to combine the two and have both a cohort effect and a period effect. There is a difference between the cohorts, but at the same time there is a spell effect. Through observation between the rows and columns, we can say that we are dealing with a cohort and period phenomenon.

Life cycle effect[edit | edit source]

Comportement politique effet de cycle de vie 1.png

The life cycle effect is the most difficult to study. Between 1964 and 1974, it could very well be said that this increase was due to a life cycle effect and we would not know whether it was a period effect or a life cycle effect. A simple way to know is to say that we find later that this increase remains stable over time and when it decreases, it is a temporary effect and therefore a period effect. The life cycle effect is not necessarily linear.

When studying social, cultural or political change, three types of effects must be considered that may be behind the change: life-cycle effects, cohort effects and period effects. The study of these three types of effects is not simple from a methodological point of view, even if they can be detected.

Orientation of religious values - secular[edit | edit source]

It is a question of considering the importance of religion in politics whether it is to explain voting or to explain participation in social movements. In existing studies, the role of religion is systematically taken into consideration when studying electoral behaviour. In any survey done to explain voting and voter turnout, there will always be a "religion" variable. However, when studying non-election turnout, this is done less frequently.

In traditional society, these are religious conflicts, the mode of expression refers to the opposition of religious and secular values, and the central issues are public education and the role of religion.

Theories of secularization[edit | edit source]

When we talk about the role of religion in politics, there are a whole bunch of studies that have shown that there is a significant loss of the explanatory power of religion on electoral behaviour in particular, but also non-electoral behaviour. At the macro level, this observation of a loss of strength of religion is based on the theory of secularization, which postulates that there is a secularization of our contemporary societies, that is to say that religious institutions and symbols no longer dominate all sectors of society. At the micro level, religion does not interfere with behaviour on non-religious issues. Finally, modernization reduces the need and importance of religion with the creation of a nation-state and the rationalization of society.

Religion and voting behaviour[edit | edit source]

To what extent does secularization, postulated by this theory, make it possible to predict electoral behaviour? There are two aspects that are being studied. On the one hand, there are studies that try to look at the electoral choices made by voters of different faiths. This is a minority study group. Where there is the most work and with those who are trying to see the correlation between religiosity and electoral behaviour. In terms of the correlation between religiosity and voting behaviour, we need to refine the concept of religiosity.

Components of religion[edit | edit source]

Existing studies differentiate between three components of religion:

  • religious membership - belonging: it is the fact of belonging or having the feeling of belonging to a religion ;
  • religious belief - believing: it refers to religious faith;
  • religious practice - behaving.

We're talking about the three "B "s. These three dimensions need to be considered in order to get a more general picture of these effects.

Religiosity[edit | edit source]

Dalton, R.J. et H.-D. Klingemann, éds. (2007). The Oxford Handbook of Political Behavior. Oxford: Oxford University Press.[10]

This table shows, using different indicators, how the three "Bs" have changed. It can be seen that on all indicators there has been a decrease in the religiosity of the citizens of the countries concerned. This would be something that would give support to the theories of secularization. We can see very important international variations. We can see that the salience of religious cleavages varies a great deal. The study of the impact of religiosity on political behaviour cannot overlook a comparative study by country, otherwise there is a risk of confusing very different levels of religiosity.

Value orientation left - right[edit | edit source]

The left-right divide characterizes industrial society with class conflict. The mode of expression is the opposition of left and right values and the central issues are economic inequality, ownership of the means of production and the market economy. What we are interested in here are values.

Political space according to Kitschelt[edit | edit source]

Kitschelt, H. (1994). The Transformation of European Social Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.[11]

With regard to the left-right opposition, Kitschelt made an important modification to the traditional idea of the opposition between left and right in a one-dimensional space. Kitschelt worked in particular on social democracy and also on the new radical right. According to Kitschelt, this traditional idea of a one-dimensional distinction between left-wing and right-wing voters no longer reflects the distribution of voters and the different configurations of values in contemporary societies. He will propose adding a vertical axis to the horizontal axis. There is an overlapping dimension to this economic dimension, a dimension that is rather social and cultural, which he will call the opposition between libertarian and authoritarian values.

Kitschelt used another terminology from this graph with the notions of self-organized community and paternalism and corporatism. By crossing these two axes, he gives forms of social values.

Kitschelt, H. (1994). The Transformation of European Social Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.[11]

Kitschelt will also try to study how the different social classes and thus the electorate are distributed in this new configuration which is a new political space. This is a term that we find in the framework of spatial theories of the vote. It opposes the two axes of social and capitalist politics. In other words, there is one axis that represents an economic dimension between a planned economy and a spontaneous economy, and a second axis that is that of self-organization or paternalism in relation to value. In this perspective, there is a sort of transversal axis that is created because there are groups of voters who are situated between two poles.

Kitschelt, H. (1994). The Transformation of European Social Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.[11]

With this graph appears the same idea. What Kitschelt postulates is that there has been a shift in the axis of partisan competition in Europe and this shift is represented by the passage of the traditional left-right axis. This shift is represented by the passage of the traditional left-right axis, that would be the distribution of voters. There appears the new distribution of voters on an axis that opposes a left-wing libertarian policy and a policy that he qualifies as right-wing authoritarian.

According to Kitschelt, there has been this shift in the competition between parties. He starts from the assumption that political parties have to compete for an electorate and therefore to get votes, they have to get the voters where they are. Political parties have to position themselves in a political space in order to get the voters where they are. In this spirit, there has been the emergence of left-wing libertarian values with a libertarian idea of emancipation from the major supervisory bodies, including the State, but on a cultural level. The traditional electorate of the socialist party has moved. The new opposition to values is no longer a left and right opposition on issues typically related to the redistribution of resources, but it is an opposition that in fact combines the idea of the redistribution of resources with the idea of how society should be organised. This opposition can also be seen as explaining the cleavage between openness and closure.

Kitschelt studied a lot about electorates and political behaviour on these two poles. In particular, he has tried to show how the whole new left is situated, how the socialist party has had to adapt to the shift in the axis of party competition. Kitschelt also studied the new social movements that are part of or correspond to the libertarian left-wing value system. The new social movements convey this type of values. On the other hand, the parties of the new radical right will seek a potential electorate that has changed its positioning. The idea that these parties combine a position against immigration, such as the SVP in Switzerland, advocates the idea of authoritarian politics, but this socio-cultural idea is combined with the traditional idea of capitalism for the economic dimension. The traditional liberal parties have lost a lot to the radical right. Kitschelt speaks of a "magic formula" which is the idea of combining authoritarian politics with the idea of capitalism. In relation to this left-right value orientation, we have to take into account Kitschelt's idea that there is not only a socio-economic dimension of redistribution of resources, but that there is also a cultural dimension. It is the combination of the two that then makes it possible to explain electoral behaviour. In the polls today, there are left libertarian versus right authoritarian measures.

Materialistic - postmaterialistic value orientation[edit | edit source]

This third type of value is supposed to explain political behaviour. This theory was proposed by Inglehart, who in 1977 published the book The Silent Revolution.[12] This theory postulates that there has been a great change in values in European societies, but also in other countries such as India. The idea was to have a theory that could be universalized. There was a great change in values with values that he calls materialistic, which are values that emphasize physical and material security. Inglehart based his theory on the Malsow pyramid which postulates that individuals first have the need to satisfy basic subsistence needs in order to survive, and then, once these needs are satisfied, they can move on to higher order needs such as social recognition of one's person, personal fulfilment or emancipation. There are two main orders of needs that Inglehart takes up, saying that this corresponds to two main types of values, he also talks about value orientation which is a coherent set of attitudes towards certain objects. There are materialistic values with the emphasis on physical material needs and post-materialistic values with the emphasis on the desire for self-realization. Inglehart postulates that there has been a great shift from these materialist values to post-materialist values since the end of World War II.

Inglehart's Theory of Postmaterialism[edit | edit source]

Inglehart's theory of post-materialism is based on two basic assumptions:

  • scarcity hypothesis: people tend to value resources and goods that are scarce.
  • socialization hypothesis: a person's values largely reflect the conditions that prevailed during the teenage years. It should be added that Inglehart, based on the idea of primary socialization which is everything that happens from birth to late adolescence, which are the formative years of our own value system, influences what we will do throughout our lives.

Inglehart worked on the idea of cohort replacement. For him, these changes from a materialistic to a postmaterialistic value system are due to the replacement of cohorts, and in particular the replacement of pre-war cohorts by cohorts born after the Second World War. After the Second World War follows the Thirty Glorious Thirty marked by the development of the welfare state and economic growth. It is therefore a great phase of economic expansion and the welfare state. It was precisely those cohorts that were socialized during this period that developed these cpostmaterialist values emphasizing the need for self-recognition and self-fulfillment because it was precisely a period when economic security and therefore material needs were guaranteed. These individuals belonging to these cohorts were able to prioritize other needs in terms of Maslow's psychology, or values in terms of Inglehart's sociology. Thus, they were socialized in a period of non-scarcity allowing them to develop this value system. Thereafter, these cohorts continued their lives replacing the old cohorts. The cohorts with postmaterialist values gradually replaced the old cohorts that were born in war or pre-war periods that were much less wealthy and periods of scarcity. Through the replacement of the cohorts, there was a silent revolution in which the value systems of Europeans were revolutionized.

Basically, Inglehart postulates two types of effects, a cohort effect and a period effect. It is possible to observe at a certain point in time a decline in postmaterialist values because there are period effects, as the 1973 oil crisis is an example. This is an effect that would have affected all the cohorts. We should see period effects on this theory.

Postmaterialism[edit | edit source]

Dalton, R.J. et H.-D. Klingemann, éds. (2007). The Oxford Handbook of Political Behavior. Oxford: Oxford University Press.[10]

This graph shows the percentage of "postmaterialist" people minus the percentage of people with "materialist" values. There is always a certain percentage of materialists, a large proportion of postmaterialists, but also a large proportion of 'mixed' people who are both materialists and postmaterialists. From 1970 to 2000, there were different cohorts that were 10-year age groups. Successive cohorts are increasingly materialistic. We can see that the different cohorts are increasingly materialistic and what degree of materialistic value and that the cohorts retain the values they developed at the age of the teenager. Then, when the cohorts are replaced, the materialists disappear and are replaced by the postmaterialists. In these theories, if there had been a continuation of economic development and the social state after 1973, the replacement of the new cohorts might have continued. This is not the case because there are period effects. We see both the cohort effect and the period effect. Both cohort effects and period effects can be detected by comparing columns and rows.

A criticism of Inglehart's theory would be that cohorts born after the Second World War would have developed postmaterialist values because there were already postmaterialist cohorts that developed before that phase. There may be a prior development explaining what made the value system change. What remains important is the idea of cohort replacement which explains the social and cultural change. This graph is an illustration of the micro-macro idea referring to Kolman's diagram, i.e. to explain a macro-sociological phenomenon, one has to go through measures at the micro-sociological level, i.e. at the level of people's values. In order to explain the link between two factors at the macro level, one has to go through values at the micro-sociological level. This refers to methodological individualism.

Dalton, R.J. et H.-D. Klingemann, éds. (2007). The Oxford Handbook of Political Behavior. Oxford: Oxford University Press.[10]

This graph shows the level of postmaterialism through aggregated data for different countries. This shift from materialistic to postmaterialistic values is something that affects all European societies. Much work has sought to show that this shift has taken place mainly in northern European societies and less in southern societies, also because in some southern European societies the religious and greater religious cleavage acts as a brake. The intertwining of different cleavages and value orientations is also important.

Annexes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Marco Giugni - UNIGE
  2. Marco Giugni - Google Scholar
  3. Marco Giugni -
  4. Marco Giugni -
  5. Marco Giugni - Protest Survey
  6. Marco Giugni - EPFL Press
  7. Marco Giugni - Bibliothèque Nationale de France
  8. ALMOND, GABRIEL A., and SIDNEY VERBA. The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations. Princeton University Press, 1963. JSTOR,
  9. Deth, J. W. V., & Scarbrough, E. (Eds.). (1998). The Impact of Values. Oxford University Press.
  10. 10,0 10,1 et 10,2 Dalton, R. J., & Klingemann, H. (Eds.). (2007). The Oxford Handbook of Political Behavior. Oxford University Press.
  11. 11,0 11,1 et 11,2 Kitschelt, Herbert. The transformation of European social democracy. Cambridge New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Print.
  12. Inglehart, Ronald. The Silent Revolution: Changing Values and Political Styles Among Western Publics. Princeton University Press, 1977. JSTOR,