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Frequently Asked Questions
I recommend the "triple issue" of Critical Review, entitled Is Democratic Competence Possible?. Its starting point is a 40-year-old essay by public opinion researcher Philip Converse called "The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass publics." I am using this post to write up a few notes on the issue.
Converse found that most people, perhaps 90 percent, do not form their political beliefs on the basis of knowledge of current events and an understanding of the logical interconnections of different viewpoints. Only the elites, whom he calls "ideologues," understand conservative and liberal ideology and have basic knowledge of, say, the identity of the Secretary of State.
Gregory J. Wawro gives a good summary of the state of debate.
Editor Jeffrey Friedman's introduction stresses what he calls "neglected implications" of Converse's work. In particular, Friedman points out that the cognitive strategy of the elite, which consists of fitting political issues into a structured view of the world, is by no means perfect.
Friedman goes on to say that Converse's findings argue against making ideological interpretations of elections results.
Critical Review reprints Converse's original essay. I found particularly interesting one of his smaller points, about how the Nazi Party probably was not understood ideologically by most of its supporters.
Scott Althaus writes,
Samuel DeCanio writes,
Ilya Somin argues that it may be rational to vote but irrational to gather information to vote intelligently. (Somin posts on the Volokh Conspiracy blog, for example here.) In his article, he writes,
Wawro (quoted earlier) argues that people adjust the facts to fit their political beliefs. His article is entitled, "The Rationalizing Public?"
Out of roughly 500 references in the volume, two intrigued me. One was John R. Zaller's book. The other was a recent paper by Charles S. Taber and Milton Lodge.
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CATEGORIES: Political Economy