Neither Liberal nor Conservative: Ideological Innocence in the American Public (Chicago Studies in American Politics) 1st Edition, Kindle Edition
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The approach is 100% statistical and is based on data generated by the American National Election Study, the world’s longest-running study of voters and elections.
The findings are as follows:
1. The way these studies measure it (and the detail is provided and seems sensible), barely a smidgen more than one fifth of Americans have ever been “ideologues.”
2. The chances an American will identify with an ideology rise in proportion to one’s ability to answer a series of basic questions about politics.
3. Elites, those who engage deeply and seriously in political life, do identify with ideology, but seem to ignore that the base does not.
4. Ideological consistency across time on specific issues is abysmal.
5. That said, Americans do feel strongly about issues, and particularly so about identity issues, women’s rights issues etc. (and this explains to an outsider like me the quaint ritual incantation of what appear to non-Americans to be uniquely American issues every four years)
6. Conservatives do not feel close to liberals and vice versa.
7. A quarter of Americans, even when pushed, refuse to grade themselves on the spectrum from “liberal” to conservative.
8. The one quarter of Americans who grade themselves as “moderate” on the spectrum from “liberal” to conservative are statistically indistinguishable from Americans who declare themselves as non-ideologues, on every single test the authors have run.
9. Very few Americans consider themselves “very liberal” or “very conservative”
10. Conversely, the distribution from “Democrat” to “Republican” is very uniform.
11. There have consistently through time been more “conservative” than “liberal” Americans
12. Americans are significantly more likely both to identify with a party than with an ideology and to show consistency in party preference across time.
13. Democrats are likely to be liberal and Republicans are likely to be conservative (duh!)
14. Americans who consider themselves to be ideological are slowly dwindling in numbers.
15. Conversely, Americans who identify strongly with a party have been increasing in numbers.
16. Liberals think less of conservatives and vice versa, but no less than fifty years ago.
17. Democrats and Republicans, on the other hand, have been growing apart in how they rate each other over the past fifty years.
18. Consistency between party identification and ideological identification has almost doubled over the past forty years.
19. Americans will change their ideological identification to correspond to their partisanship.
20. Ideology is for Americans the result of experience (for example the emergence of an important politician, the result of a major crisis or a response to social identity) not a cause of participation in political life.
The authors leave things there, but obviously for me this has merely been a starting point for all sorts of thoughts that I summarize here, but which you won’t find in the book and are thus technically not part of the book review:
As a European, raised in a country where I got to experience frequent political demonstrations, tear gas, all-night TV debates, etc. I thought these findings were rather disturbing.
On the other hand, I have always felt that the split between “liberal” and “conservative” in American politics is a very hard-to-swallow “set menu” where neither of the two represents at all how I, for example, think. Somebody please explain to me why I cannot both believe in free markets and in adequate taxation to provide a basic safety net, for example.
So perhaps people are simply refusing to be pigeon-holed into one of those two categories, and would be happier to identify with less proscriptive ideologies.
Also, and again speaking from experience, I find it much easier to express how I feel about issues than to see how my sundry views come together to form a consistent “ideology.”
A less benign interpretation could be that Americans are so busy working to keep their head above water that they do not have the luxury to think along the lines of an ideology. A bit like we observe in today’s nominally communist but practically oligarchic China, it could be that the American worker may only have the bandwidth to concentrate on one or two political issues that are “close to home” and seek to get ahead via partisanship.
The 180 degrees opposite interpretation would be that the subject of serious political debate in the rest of the world, redistribution, is a closed case in the US, where the population has felt affluent enough to put such thoughts to one side, only leaving room for the uniquely American political neuroses we Europeans get to laugh about every four years, such as threats to Roe vs Wade, the composition of the Supreme Court, gun control etc.
But I digress. In summary, much as it cannot be any better than the numbers it’s having to work with, this is a totally fascinating set of statistical findings. I’m very happy I read it. And I can 100% understand that the authors would not want to move from the undisputable econometrics they present to wild speculation of the kind I’m engaging in here!