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Wayne Baker
  Wayne Baker

Voting Your Values and Moral Visions

4/7/2005 --

Professor Wayne Baker finds that shared voters' values impact political behavior.

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Controversial exit polls from the 2004 U.S. presidential election reported that "values voters" made the difference in the outcome. Yet, based on historical evidence regarding presidential election votes, experts are unsure about the role values play.

What the debate over this issue points out is a fundamental question about the changing social bases of political behavior, says sociologist Wayne Baker, professor of management and organizations at the University of Michigan's Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

American politics, he says, is becoming more "cultural" (people with the same values tend to have similar political beliefs and vote the same way even when they are members of different social groups) and less "social structural" (members of the same social groups—based on class, race religion or gender—tend to have similar political beliefs).

In a recent paper submitted to the 2005 annual meetings of the American Sociological Association, Baker suggests that a better measure of values may help to understand the role of moral values in politics and that shared values are a source of social capital—resources that may be mobilized for social action.

Baker's findings show that values voters are not a myth, though their impact may have been exaggerated. In the 2000 election, for example, there was a significant tendency for those with "self-expression" values (protecting the environment, fighting for multiculturalism, civil rights, etc.) to turn out and vote, compared to those with what are known as "survival" values (creating jobs, fighting inflation, protecting domestic industries, etc.)

Voters with traditional values were more likely to vote for George Bush and to identify as conservative, Baker adds.

Better measures of values can improve the understanding of the cultural bases of political behavior in general and the phenomena of values voters, in particular, he says. Including an even broader and deeper array of values in future surveys might further illuminate the role these values voters play in American politics.

Baker also notes that shared values, not just social networks, are a source of social capital—resources that can be mobilized for social action—and can impact political behavior. In other words, community is more than a social network of relationships among people; it is also a commitment to a set of shared values, norms and meanings.

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat
Phone: (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847