Newswise — Recent American presidential elections have led to discussion of the importance of moral values and whether these values have tipped an electoral advantage to the political right.

A new study funded by the National Science Foundation finds moral values can be significant motivators of political engagement, but equally so for voters on both ends of the political spectrum.

"People whose feelings about candidates or issues were experienced as strong moral convictions were higher in political engagement than those whose feelings were not," said lead author Linda Skitka, professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Moral conviction operated as an "equal-opportunity motivator" of political engagement for those on the political right and left, Skitka said.

The study, appearing in the February issue of Political Psychology, online today, analyzes responses to two surveys involving the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.

In one, researchers examined replies to a national survey following the 2000 presidential election. They explored whether people's sense of moral conviction predicted their showing up at the polls.

They found that as the strength of moral conviction about one's preferred candidate increased, so did the likelihood that the respondent voted -- even when the respondents' strength of candidate preference or party identification were equal.

In the second, the researchers examined responses of 601 UIC students to a pre-2004 presidential election survey to determine the degree that moral conviction associated with a specific campaign issue -- such as abortion, gay marriage or the Iraq War -- predicted the intention to vote.

Those findings suggested that moral conviction regarding gay marriage and the Iraq War had stronger correlation to one's intention to vote than did a moral conviction about abortion. Strength of attitude regarding the Iraq War -- not abortion or gay marriage -- indicated greater intentions to vote, the report found. Stronger attitude on gay marriage actually was associated with a reduced intention to vote.

Both studies tested whether the effects of moral conviction on voting or intentions to vote were stronger for those on the political right or left.

"Even if their moral compasses are set in different directions, our results indicate that liberals and conservatives were equally likely to view their candidate choices and positions on issues of the day as moral convictions, and these moral convictions were associated with increased voting behavior and intentions to vote," Skitka said.

"When people perceive an issue in a moral light, it is more likely to impact behavior than when attitudes are perceived as strong but nonmoral," she said.

Christopher Bauman of Northwestern University is co-author on the study.

For more information about UIC, please visit

Register for reporter access to contact details

Political Psychology (Feb-2008)