Reconsidering the Relationship Between Cultural Theory, Political Ideology, and Political Knowledge

Ripberger, Joseph T., Geoboo Song, Matthew C. Nowlin, Michael D. Jones, and Hank C. Jenkins-Smith. 2012. “Reconsidering the Relationship Between Cultural Theory, Political Ideology, and Political Knowledge.” Social Science Quarterly, 93(3): 713–731, doi:


Social scientists from a variety of disciplines have employed concepts drawn from cultural theory (CT ) to explain preferences across an array of issues. Recent research has challenged key elements of CT in a number of ways, perhaps most importantly by arguing that cultural types are simply another formulation of political ideology, and that only politically knowledgeable respondents reliably utilize either cultural or ideological categories in formulating preferences. This study reconsiders and expands upon this contention.


Principal component analyses of responses to a U.S. national survey of 4,387 people.


Our findings are threefold: (1) people with low levels of political knowledge are able to sort egalitarianism and individualism into coherent worldviews; (2) people with high levels of knowledge do not collapse egalitarianism and individualism onto a single scale of political ideology; and (3) regardless of levels of knowledge, survey respondents are able to recognize all four of the value orientations proposed by CT .


CT, which is related to but different than political ideology, offers a robust system of worldviews that both high‐ and low‐knowledge individuals might draw upon to formulate opinions and make decisions.

Matthew C. Nowlin
Associate Professor of Political Science