When I was in undergraduate engineering school, one of the few non-engineering/science courses that I took was a political science course. The professor had us read one of the books then recently published (circa 1973) by well-known political scientists Dye and Ziegler.
The most significant thing that I can recall from that work is that most people do not make reasoned, analytical decisions about their political candidates. Instead, Dye and Ziegler concluded that people generally voted the way their parents voted – plain and simple.
I recently recalled this piece of research when a buddy generated a comment about the current presidential campaign. However, I acknowledged that new research might reveal other patterns, particularly in light of the massive amount of information available to us through the media and other sources, and the fact that our citizenry is generally better educated and more sophisticated. I just didn’t have the data or research to support my suspicion about the evolving mindset of the citizen voters.
Well, C-Span2 Book TV addressed the research issue yesterday, and again today. You can watch the presentation on your own schedule by clicking on this link. Andrew Gelman is a professor at Columbia University specializing in statistics and political science. He recently published his most recent book, Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do. During the presentation, Gelman and several of his co-researchers present their findings.
The following introduction is taken from the C-Span2, Book TV page for the program, copyright 2008, by the National Cable Satellite Corporation:
“Andrew Gelman examines the common thinking about the American electorate and contends that several long held beliefs are incorrect. Mr. Gelman argues that the political fissure in the United States does not lie between Blue America and Red America but rather between affluent Republicans and Democrats. He also contends that religion is no more divisive in the United States than amongst European voters and that church attendance is a greater predictor of voting among the rich than the poor.”
The program is hosted by the Cato Institute. (It should be kept in mind that even according to its website, the Institute is dedicated to “promoting public policy based on individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peaceful international relations.” Hmmmm. Oh well, they are still a respected entity, and all of us are free to stake a position and advocate for it.)
One of Gelman’s co-researchers argues that only a relatively small number of Americans are informed sufficiently to have an ideology, and thus the conflict in ideology only exists between the elite. Reference is frequently made to the works of Ronald Englehart, who tracked the cultural shifts that occur in societies internationally as they became more economically advanced in the post-modern era. To the extent that there is a counter-culture revolution, it invariably creates a backlash, or counter-counter-culture revolution, and in the case of the US, it was the rise of the evangelical Christians, otherwise known as the Moral Majority.
The results of the research are interesting, and will cause one to think. Enjoy it – it’s thought provoking.
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