What is Central to Belief System Networks?
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Description: A central challenge for identifying core components of a belief system is examining the position of components within the structure of the entire belief system. Here, we test whether operational (i.e. positions on specific issues) or symbolic (i.e. affective attachments to political groups and labels) components are most central by modeling a political belief system as a network of interconnected attitudes and beliefs. Across seven annual waves of representative panel data from New Zealand, we find that symbolic components are more central in the system than operational components (d’s range 0.78 – 0.97). Symbolic components were also closer than operational components in the network to self-reported voting (d = -2.28) and environmental behaviors (d’s = -1.62 and -1.54). These findings are consistent with perspectives that emphasize the importance of symbolic politics in tying belief systems together and motivating behavior, and further the link between political belief system research and network science.