In a provocative 1987 article, Aaron Wildavsky asserted that culture operates as the fundamental orienting force in the generation of mass public opinion. The meanings and interpersonal associations that inhere in discrete ways of life, he argued, shape the heuristic processes by which politically unsophisticated individuals, in particular, choose what policies and candidates to support. We systematize Wildavsky's theory and integrate it with existing accounts of mass opinion formation. We also present the results of an original national survey (N = 1843), which found that the cultural orientations featured in Wildavsky's writings accounted for policy-related attitudes on gun control, environment, capital punishment, and gay marriage, even at low levels of political sophistication and after controlling for demographics, left-right ideology, and partisanship. By contrast, much of the predictive power of demographics, left-right ideology, and partisanship on policy attitudes dissipated after taking into account cultural orientations.
Braman, Donald; Gastil, John; Kahan, Dan M.; and Slovic, Paul, "The 'Wildavsky Heuristic': The Cultural Orientation of Mass Political Opinion" (2005). GW Law Faculty Publications & Other Works. 202.