Yeah, there are already dozens of ways of painting the political ideological spectrum. Many are interesting, but most also raise further questions, such as why does it look such, and how can they resolve apparent contractions within each polar ideology.
And contradictions there are, as flagged by Jost et al. (2003):
We now take it for granted in the United States that political conservatives tend to be for law and order but not gun control, against welfare but generous to corporations, protective of cultural traditions but antagonistic toward contemporary art and music, and wary of government but eager to weaken the separation of church and state. They are committed to freedom and individualism but perennially opposed to extending rights and liberties to disadvantaged minorities, especially gay men and lesbians and others who blur traditional boundaries. There is no obvious political thread that runs through these diverse positions (or through their liberal counterparts) and no logical principle that renders them all consistent.
I’d like to suggest that none of these existing approaches is the most parsimonious nor the most powerfully explanatory when it comes to defining the key variable in political ideology. And many have trouble with the contradictions mentioned above.
I’ve already mentioned my fondness (with reservations) of George Lakoff’s nation-as-a-family metaphor account of liberalism and conservatism – with liberals adopting a nurturant parent metaphor and conservatives a strict father metaphor. But even if that account contains a nugget of truth, it doesn’t explain why these two metaphors consistently emerge to characterise the ideological poles.
So, I’d like to propose a new one-dimensional spectrum simply based around a difference in worldview concerning whether the world is a safe or dangerous place.
It might seem a leap too far, but bear with me, because I’m going to attempt to show that genes influence the way you vote. Let’s start at the end and work our way towards the beginning.
Your adopted political ideology strongly influences the way you vote. Certainly, there might be circumstances in which a liberal might vote for a conservative candidate, such as if the liberal candidate was an obvious dud (or the conservative candidate was a shining star), or if the conservative candidate happened to offer a better policies for the present environment (say, being a hawk in a time of war). But, all things being equal, self-identifying liberals vote for liberal candidates and parties.
However, your political ideology isn’t something you come to adopt from out of the blue. We’re not political blank slates. One of the greatest influences on what ideology you adopt is your worldview, which I loosely define as the implicit framework you use to make sense of the world around you.
Your worldview is both descriptive and prescriptive – it helps understand the way the world is, and it’s value-laden, so it helps you understand good and bad, desirable and undesirable. Many empirical and theoretical studies have shown that underneath our political attitudes lie (often unconscious) beliefs about the way the world is.
Here’s a thought in the which-comes-first-political-ideology-or-political-psychology? department. The answer to which could well be: both. If so, then perhaps some bastardisation of the process of reflective equilibrium could benefit our understanding of political ideology as well as the way in which people are actually motivated to behave politically.
See, for decades it’s been the remit of political scientists to explore the nature of political ideology, to construct definitions and to investigate the way people behave in a political context. Yet political science operates in a highly rarefied environment. It looks at ideology in theoretical terms, almost as if the various ideologies exist in the world to be discovered as various objective ways of being or of running society.
It also often abstracts the messy complexities of human behaviour down to the clean quantifiable lines of rational choice theory. It’s a very top-down approach, starting with theories of political organisation and then noting how these completed, coherent ideologies are disseminated down to the people.
But this approach has its shortcomings, particularly in explaining how and why individuals adopt a particular political ideology, and how that ideology motivates their behaviour. Because people aren’t rational agents and ideologies aren’t clear cut things that people adopt holus-bolus.
Top-down political science even had an ‘end of idology’ crisis through the late 20th century, where ideology was nearly abandoned as a concept because it was conceived as too far beyond the ken of the average schmo to comprehend the complexities of an entire political ideology (Jost, 2006). As such, it was thought most people’s attributions and identifications with one ideology or another were incomplete, misguided or disingenuous. Ideology was on shaky ground.
Yet political ideologies are important. They do influence beliefs. And they do motivate behaviour. But not in the abstract way outlined by many political scientists in the 20th century.
Only 6% of scientists self-identify as Republican. Six per cent! And there are five times as many who don’t even have a partisan affiliation. And only 9% self-identify as conservative. Fascinating.
But not entirely unexpected.
These numbers, uncovered by the PEW Research Center, have been the topic of much discussion, sparked by this piece on Slate by Daniel Sarewitz, followed up by a number in The Economist’s Democracy in America blog. Both express concern about the implications of so few conservatives in science. And both speculate as to the cause, first Sarewitz:
It doesn’t seem plausible that the dearth of Republican scientists has the same causes as the under-representation of women or minorities in science. I doubt that teachers are telling young Republicans that math is too hard for them, as they sometimes do with girls; or that socioeconomic factors are making it difficult for Republican students to succeed in science, as is the case for some ethnic minority groups. The idea of mentorship programs for Republican science students, or scholarship programs to attract Republican students to scientific fields, seems laughable, if delightfully ironic.
And The Economist:
I can think of three testable hypotheses they might look into. The first is that scientists are hostile towards Republicans, which scares young Republicans away from careers in science. The second is that Republicans are hostile towards science, and don’t want to go into careers in science. The third is that young people who go into the sciences tend to end up becoming Democrats, due to factors inherent in the practice of science or to peer-group identification with other scientists.
I’d like to advance a fourth hypothesis: the same psychological proclivities that predispose individuals towards conservatism and the Republican party are the same psychological proclivities that predispose those individuals to not have a strong interest in science.
Contrary to the popular view that political attitudes and ideological commitments are the product of environmental factors, such as family upbringing, socio-economic conditions, or rational reflection, in fact it’s psychology that plays a dominant role in influencing an individual’s political leanings. And career choices.
In light of the results from the mid-term elections, I direct your attention to a post I made in May last year.
What goes around…
But, in the same spirit, the Democrats aren’t out for the count. They’re just winded. They’ll be back, or a bunch like them.
This is further guaranteed by a fundamental difference between this pendulum tip compared to the one that thrust Obama into the White House: this is not only an election about values, it’s an election driven by ignorance.
Values differ, and it’s to be expected that some people will favour one set of values over another, and each set will probably have its merits.
But facts are facts, and this lot who have swept into both houses of Congress are weak when it comes to their grasp of the facts. As a result, despite any actually good values they might possess, this bald ignorance and intellectual sluggishness will inevitably result in poor policy, and that will hasten their departure.
Let’s check back at the next election and see how this prediction fares in the light of history.