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Rational Constraint in Mass Belief Systems: The Role of Developmental Moral Stages in the Structure of Political Beliefs

Joseph Wagner
Political Psychology
Vol. 11, No. 1 (Mar., 1990), pp. 147-171
DOI: 10.2307/3791518
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3791518
Page Count: 25
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Rational Constraint in Mass Belief Systems: The Role of Developmental Moral Stages in the Structure of Political Beliefs
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Abstract

Studies of mass belief systems have often produced disparaging conclusions about the consistency, coherence, and political intelligence of the American public. This paper argues that such results too often reflect the limited ways in which researchers attempt to identify the structure of constrained belief. It adapts Lawrence Kohlberg's theory of cognitive moral development to explore an alternative measure of constraint in mass belief systems and shows that Melvin Kohn's questions about childrearing values yield a theoretically plausible, empirically reliable measure of developmental stages. This measure exhibits both internal and external validity and demonstrates marked stability over time. It also yields provocative empirical findings which suggest the need for an expanded notion of rational constraint. This study supports the claim that failure to identify a cognitive structure in mass belief systems owes more to limited conceptualization by researchers than to empirically identified limitations of citizens.

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