The Cultural Orientation of Mass Political Opinion

John Gastila1, Don Bramana2, Dan Kahana3 and Paul Slovica4

a1 Pennsylvania State University

a2 George Washington University

a3 Yale University

a4 University of Oregon

Most Americans lack any substantial degree of ideological sophistication (Kinder 1998), yet they often manage to express coherent views across a range of issues. The conventional explanation for this is that people rely on judgmental shortcuts (e.g., Sniderman, Brody, and Tetlock 1991). These “heuristics” permit individuals with sufficient political sophistication to sort and filter incoming messages to form relatively consistent views that align with preexisting values (Zaller 1992).

(Online publication October 18 2011)

John Gastil is head and professor in communication arts and sciences at The Pennsylvania State University. He studies in political deliberation and group decision making and his recent books include The Jury and Democracy, The Group in Society, and Political Communication and Deliberation. He can be reached at

Donald Braman is an associate professor of law at the George Washington University Law School and a co-founder of the Cultural Cognition Project. His research looks at crime, punishment, and cultural conflict, and his writings include Doing Time on the Outside: Incarceration and Family Life in Urban America (University of Michigan Press). He can be reached at

Dan Kahan is the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law at Yale Law School and visiting Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He studies risk and science communication in law and public policy. He can be reached at

Paul Slovic is a founder and president of Decision Research and a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon. He studies human judgment, decision-making and risk analysis. He and his colleagues have developed methods to describe risk perceptions and measure their impacts on individuals, industry, and society. He can be reached at


Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF. The authors thank John Darley, Don Green, Paul Sniderman, and Christopher Winship for their invaluable guidance as members of the study advisory panel, and the staff at Northwest Survey & Data Services for collecting the phone-survey data. Cindy Simmons and Mark Smith provided useful insights on an earlier version of this article. This essay is adapted from earlier versions, which have been presented at conferences. The original version and additional methodological details from the current article can be found at