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An Examination of Political Attitudes and Behavior Using Regulatory Focus Theory

Kristen D Deppe, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Using Regulatory Focus Theory (RFT, Higgins 1997), I take a broad look at the manner in which political behaviors and attitudes are impacted by the promotion and prevention motivational systems. I first look at how behavior in life generally and political life specifically are similar in terms of regulatory focus. Second, I look at how RFT is related to political attitudes. Specifically, I look at whether there is a connection between regulatory focus and ideological attitudes, whether there is a relationship between policy context and motivational systems, and whether the status quo of a policy leads to a relationship between focus and issue attitudes. Finally, I look at how regulatory fit impacts the intention to vote as well as attitudes related to casting a ballot. I look at process based regulatory fit by interacting a person’s chronic regulatory focus and how they behave in political life. I also analyze outcome based fit by manipulating focus and the content of a Get Out the Vote message. I examine these topics by using three separate studies – two surveys and one experiment. I show people generally use either eager or vigilant strategies across both every day and political life. I also show that people who use eager strategies vote for their preferred candidate while those using vigilant strategies are more likely to blackball disliked candidates. My findings show a much stronger connection between a general proclivity to use eager strategies and holding a promotion orientation than prevention focus and using vigilant strategies. In addition, I find that the environment in which people are politically active impacts attitudes. For example, the current status quo of a policy impacts how regulatory focus is related to issue attitudes. Also, under certain conditions, the combination of focus and strategy use can increase external efficacy and positive attitudes related to voting. Overall, people’s motivational systems color their view of the political world and how they relate to it.

Subject Area

Political science

Recommended Citation

Deppe, Kristen D, "An Examination of Political Attitudes and Behavior Using Regulatory Focus Theory" (2017). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10682939.