Date of Degree

5-2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Psychology

Advisor(s)

Kristen Gillespie-Lynch

Committee Members

Heejung Park

Anna Stetsenko

Patricia Brooks

Aaron Richmond

Subject Categories

American Politics | Developmental Psychology | Human Geography | Multicultural Psychology | Personality and Social Contexts | Place and Environment | Politics and Social Change | Race and Ethnicity | Social Psychology | Social Psychology and Interaction | Sociology of Culture | Theory and Philosophy

Keywords

culture, ecology, identity, morality, voting, polarization, individualism, media literacy

Abstract

The prevailing discourse about the myth of the “melting pot” of American culture implies that heritage cultures are eliminated in favor of a homogenous “American” norm. However, this myth belies the persistence of our cultural heritage in forming our attitudes, morals, and habitual patterns of thought, each of which shape how we participate in our democracy through voting. By contextualizing voting predictors such as authoritarianism, social dominance, and sexism in developmental and ecological theories, this dissertation shows how they are shaped by culture and transmitted through consumption of media and interaction with members of one’s community and family. In an effort to model voting preferences using psychological constructs rather than demographic proxies such as race, gender or age, political scientists Feldman and Stenner (1997) have identified authoritarian parenting attitudes as a key parameter that predicts voting preferences for conservative candidates. Other scholars have identified additional parameters, such as hostile sexism (Glick and Fiske, 1996) and social dominance orientation (Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth & Malle, 1994) while scholars such as Graham et al. (2011) have drawn together these separate predictors into a comprehensive, multidimensional measure of political ideology situated in the literature on moral development, yet scholars have neglected the role of culture in shaping our voting preferences and the psychological constructs which underlie and drive them. While psychological constructs pinpoint the mechanisms for people’s voting behavior rather than essentializing behavior to demographic groups, most of the literature on voting preferences categorizes the predictors as personality or individual difference variables, or not at all. Integrating three theories on cultural ecology (Bronfenbrenner, Greenfield and Hofstede) with Tajfel and Turner’s Social Identity Theory, this dissertation seeks to open a dialogue about the tensions between individual differences variables and cultural variables, and how they both contribute to shaping outcome behaviors such as taking a moral stance and then voting in accordance with it. This work assembles the threads from recent research to create a model which predicts voting decisions, contextualized in a multicultural environment, to tease out the role of culture as a contributor. Using an extensive online survey, we replicated findings from prior literature which indicated that hostile sexism (but not being a man), authoritarian parenting attitudes, and a social dominance orientation predicted voting preferences for Donald Trump compared to Hillary Clinton. A new predictor, heritage-culture individualism, was developed for this dissertation and significantly predicted participants’ preference for Donald Trump. Given ongoing debate in cross-cultural psychology about the degree to which culture can be studied as an individual difference or as characteristic of one’s heritage countries, we compared individual difference measures of cultural values with the mean cultural value orientation of one’s heritage country or countries. Findings suggest that the impact of heritage cultures, or the values, norms, and rules brought by our ancestors from our heritage countries and regions, is a significant component that shapes voting decisions while individual difference cultural variables are less predictive. Taken together and situated in theoretical perspectives, these findings suggest that voting preferences are shaped by cultural values, and prompts scholars to recast previous predictors, such as authoritarianism, as having a larger component of culture than previously acknowledged. This novel finding speaks to a broader debate in cross-cultural psychology by providing support for Hofstede’s assertion that cultural values represent coherent wholes that are more than the sum of the values of the people comprising them. It suggests a model which combines elements of Hofstede’s, Greenfield’s, and Bronfenbrenner’s theories of cultural ecology. With a better understanding of where identities, values, and ideas come from, we believe that interventions aimed at persuading voters can be more pluralistically sensitive to different ideologies while still increasing awareness of social justice issues.

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