Economic well-being and self-placements on a left-right scale: Evidence from undergraduate students in seven countries

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Despite its conceptual and empirical ambiguities, the Left-Right distinction of political preferences is a widely used tool in academic debates on voting and party behaviour, coalition formation and political culture. In a novel contribution to scholarship on the social construction of ideological identities, we investigate the context-dependent nature of the association between different conceptualizations of economic well-being and political orientations along a Left-Right scale. Our theoretical framework distinguishes economic well-being into a materialist and post-materialist dimension, and derives its hypotheses from Social Modernization Theory. Using multivariate analyses with original survey data from 3,449 undergraduate students in Bolivia, Brazil, Italy, Kenya, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK, our results show clear patterns and large effect sizes in the association between respondents’ macro-economic context and their micro-level ideological orientations. In non-high-income countries, respondents’ Left-Right self-placements correlate with a materialist conceptualization of economic well-being, which centres on assessments of their family’s real-life economic status. In high-income countries, by contrast, respondents’ Left-Right self-placements are associated with a post-materialist conceptualization of economic well-being that is based on normative judgements about inequality aversion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-120
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Political Ideologies
Issue number1
Early online date25 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2024

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