The political and moral relevance of popular music: Matching worldviews with lyrical content


Music has not frequently been examined by social scientists for its political import, despite a recent increase in research on other entertainment media for the same purpose. This is perhaps the result of the relative lack of explicit political or ideological references in most American music. However, a prominent finding of Moral Foundations Theory is that the importance assigned to five different moral domains, such as harm and fairness, is a strong predictor of political ideology. Given the connection between morality and political orientation, the prevalence of different types of moral topics in music may associate with listeners’ attitudes. To test the concordance between values and music content, an automated content analysis of the lyrics of over 37,000 songs that ranked on Billboard charts from 2010-2015 was conducted. In addition, survey data were gathered by YouGov from a nationally representative sample plus a Black oversample. Each respondent rated their liking for and frequency of listening to all genres included in the analysis along with completing the Moral Foundations Questionnaire, which is used to assess moral priorities. The number of references to each of five moral domains within 10 musical genres was compared with the importance ratings given to each domain by fans of those genres. Results show that the moral content of music, especially in the domain of purity, is associated with the moral sentiments of listeners.

40th Annual Conference of the Midwest Association for Public Opinion Research
Chicago, IL