Studying the Structure of Attitudes with Belief Network Analysis

Andrei Boutyline, UC at Berkeley, Sociology
Theories of the structure of political belief systems typically conceive of them as networks of interrelated opinions, in which some beliefs are central and others are derived from these more fundamental positions. In this paper, we formally show how such structural features can be used to construct measures of belief centrality that are based on direct comparisons of relative positions of beliefs in a network of correlations. To demonstrate the usefulness of this method and contrast it with existing techniques, we examine belief networks we construct from the 2000 American National Election Study. While regression analyses of these data have been used to argue that political beliefs are organized around cultural schemas of parenting, our structural approach contradicts this interpretation. Instead, our results are broadly consistent with the conception of political identity as a heuristic device for acquiring attitudes. To search for possible heterogeneity, we then separately examine belief networks belonging to 44 different demographic subpopulations. These analyses indicate that belief systems of different groups vary in the extent to which they are organized, but rarely vary in the logic around which they are organized. While our analyses focus on political beliefs, techniques we introduce here can be applied to many other cultural domains.
February, 29 2016 | 12:30 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. | 270 Gross Hall

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