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The relationship between political ideology and ethical consumption

Cronk, Bradley (2017) The relationship between political ideology and ethical consumption. Master of Arts by Research (MARes) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:60891)

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Problem definition and research questions

The determinants of ethical consumption behaviour are largely unknown. This research explores the effectiveness of political ideology as a predictor of ethical consumption. Increasing the understanding of ethical consumption will create opportunities for organisations to supply consumer segments with products that address the ethical consumption issues that are most important to them. The issues that form overall ethical consumption include: (1) animal rights in product testing; (2) use of animal byproducts; (3) product biodegradability; (4) products made from recyclables; (5) product safety information provided; (6) human rights; (7) packaging recyclability; (8) product disposability; (9) payment of minimum wages; (10) unions allowed; (11) minimum living conditions met; (12) sexual orientation rights; (13) safe working conditions guaranteed; (14) use of child labour in production; (15) genetically modified (GM) material usage; and (16) gender, religious and racial rights (Auger, Devinney & Louviere 2007).

Knowledge of the determinants of ethical consumption would have implications for how different product categories, for example, 'environmentally friendly' or 'Fairtrade' are positioned in the market and how consumers are targeted in marketing communications campaigns. This research can help practicing marketers to understand which ethical features are important to which consumers. With an understanding that consumers' political ideology impacts how they prioritise ethical consumption issues, marketers can politically charge their messages, and segment and target consumers based on their ideological perspective. The research therefore reinforces the widely-accepted marketing maxim that values are more effective than demographics in profiling consumers and segmenting markets (Doran 2009). In fact, the effectiveness of values as a segmentation criterion has a profound impact on the practical implications for this research. Furthermore, Cotte & Trudel's (2009) systematic review of the literature suggests that personality variables, including political orientations, can explain ethical consumption attitudes better than demographic factors. Previous research has only ever studied political ideology in a limited way with a simple measure of liberalism (Roberts 1996). This research goes further by using more comprehensive measures of the Left/Right distinction in politics and addressing the various ethical consumption issues as well as overall ethical consumption.

Using political ideology to understand ethical consumption is novel since political ideology is usually understood for its influence on the government and the public sector through democratic means. However, this research aims to explain how political ideology affects consumer responses to business behaviour in the private sector as well. In this regard, we understand consumption choices to represent market politics, and acknowledge that ethical consumption treats the marketplace as a quasidemocracy. This view of ethical consumption as purchase voting is well documented in the literature and adds pertinence to the use of political ideology as the predictor variable for this research.

Hypothesis and approach to the research

This paper hypothesises that (1) there is a relationship between ethical consumption and political ideology, such that individuals with a more Leftist political ideology will display stronger intentions to engage in ethical consumption and those with a more Rightist political ideology will display weaker intentions to engage in ethical consumption. Critically, an individual's intentions to engage in ethical consumption will decline from Left to Right on the spectrum of political ideology (RH-1). However, (2) both the strength and the direction of this relationship will vary across the different ethical consumption issues (this hypothesis is elaborated on in Appendix 1 to cover animal, environmental and human/social welfare issues (RH-2)). For instance, political ideology may have no predictive power for certain ethical consumption issues, while other dimensions may correlate closely with an increasingly Rightist ideology. The rationales for these hypotheses are that the consumer's values in consumption will

differ in line with their political ideology. A relationship has been found between an individual's personal values and ethical consumption (Doran 2009), but evidence for the relationship with political values is yet to be established.

Political ideology is hypothesised to be a predictor of ethical consumption behaviour because it provides the lens for promoting beliefs and attitudes on social and economic issues (Feldman, Johnston 2014). The issues addressed within ethical consumption (e.g. the environment, animal welfare, human rights and sustainability) are often more closely associated with the political Left than with the political Right. The Left-wing is proven to support social equality and social justice, and oppose the social hierarchy generally accepted on the Right-wing. With strong ties to labour unions we can predict that workers' rights are a concern of those with a Left-wing orientation. Products that support workers' rights, such as Fairtrade items are therefore predicted to be important to Leftist consumers. Similarly, the Left-wing has been heavily associated with movements such as civil rights and the environmental movement. It is therefore feasible to suggest that products which support human rights (e.g. Ethical Trading

Initiative (ETI) endorsed products) and the environment (products endorsed by Rainforest Alliance and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)) will appeal more to Leftists. There are particularly strong links between Leftism and support for environmental issues in Britain and around the world where a number of political parties representing the 'green-left' have emerged. In Britain these are the Green Party of England and Wales and the Scottish Greens. However, there are also ethical consumption issues that are hypothesised to correlate more closely with Rightist political beliefs. See Appendix 1 for more detail on the hypothesised strength and direction of the relationship between animal welfare (RH-2.1), human/social welfare (RH-2.2), environmental welfare (RH-2.3), and other ethical consumption issues (RH-2.4), and political ideology.


Following three rounds of survey pretesting, data was collected in March 2016 on a general population sample, from a Qualtrics panel of UK consumers aged 18 and above. 220 UK consumers were surveyed, using established scales for measuring both ethical consumption and political ideology. Data was collected on two scales of ethical consumption, two scales of political ideology and a group of control variables

identified through a review of the existing literature (age, education, gender, marital status, income, country of birth and religiosity). Data analysis was then conducted through the statistical program SPSS. The results include descriptive statistics, bivariate analysis, and multivariate regression.

Results and conclusions

A significant relationship was found between political ideology and ethical consumption in both cases where a traditional Left/Right measure was used. In fact, Left/Right political ideology was found to predict around 4 or 5% of the variance in ethical consumption intentions. However, no significant relationship was found between an individual's level of Libertarianism or Authoritarianism and ethical consumption. Critically, ethical consumption intentions reduce with a more Right wing political ideology. A correlation was found between ethical consumption (measured through the Socially Responsible Purchasing and Disposal (SRDP) scale) and Rightist political ideology. A -0.214 correlation was found with a 0.001 significance level when measured using the British Social Attitudes (BSA) Left/Right scale on political ideology, and -0.224 with a significance of 0.002 when measured with the Buckle (2013) Left/Right policy preferences scale. However, the relationship was obscured by the confounding/moderating variables. The regression analysis controlled for all known confounding variables identified within the literature. When these items were held constant, the relationship between political ideology and ethical consumption increased in magnitude. These coefficients increased from -0.214 (BSA) and -0.224 (Buckle 2013), to -0.261 and -0.240 respectively. However, it is important to acknowledge that the relationship found between these variables was still weak in nature. These negative relationships proved that ethical consumption intentions decrease from Left to Right on the spectrum of political ideology.

From the findings, this article underscores political ideology as a partial predictor of ethical consumption, and maps how important or unimportant the different ethical consumption issues are to consumers. The results explain how the importance of specific ethical consumption issues will decline or increase from Left to Right on the spectrum of political ideology.

The results show that recycling intentions (4.54/5) were generally higher than intentions to avoid environmental impact in consumption (3.50/5). Similarly, consumers had stronger intentions to avoid environmental impact in consumption than to purchase based on firms' CSR performance (3.13/5). The analysis provided later in this report shows that recycling intentions, intentions to avoid environmental impact and intentions to purchase based on firms' CSR performance all decline from Left to Right on the spectrum of political ideology.

Human rights, child labour, safe working conditions, minimum living conditions for workers and paying minimum wages were the five most important ethical consumption issues identified in this study. At the other end of the scale, the right to unionise, product disposability, the use of GM material and product biodegradability were the four least important ethical consumption issues overall.

Political ideology has a significant correlation (positive or negative) with 9 of the 16 ethical consumption issues covered in this survey. When controlling for confounding factors, and using the BSA scale of political ideology, the only variables with a significant correlation were. A stepwise multiple regression was used to only include statistically significant predictor variables. Seven of the ethical consumption issues had a significant relationship when potential confounding factors were controlled for. Four issues had a negative relationship (animal byproducts used, right to unionise, human rights and gender, religious and racial rights) and three had a positive relationship (product safety information provided, avoiding the use of GM in products and product disposability) with a more Rightist ideology. Overall ethical consumption intentions reduced with a move from Left to Right on the spectrum of political ideology. Religiosity was found to be the best predictor of ethical consumption intentions in this model. The stepwise models (each with 3 variables) explained 12.6% and 12.9% of the variability in ethical consumption intentions. In both cases, none of the demographic variables had a statistically significant relationship with any individual ethical consumption issues, reinforcing the idea that political ideology can be a better predictor of ethical consumption that simple demographics.

Item Type: Thesis (Master of Arts by Research (MARes))
Thesis advisor: Acquaye, Adolf
Uncontrolled keywords: Corporate Social Responsibility, Ethical Consumption, Political Ideology, Consumer Behaviour
Divisions: Divisions > Kent Business School - Division > Kent Business School (do not use)
Depositing User: Users 1 not found.
Date Deposited: 13 Mar 2017 16:00 UTC
Last Modified: 08 Dec 2022 19:17 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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Cronk, Bradley.

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