财新传媒
位置:博客 > 韦爱德 > AMERICAN POLITICAL IDEOLOGY: A BRIEFING (PART TWO)

AMERICAN POLITICAL IDEOLOGY: A BRIEFING (PART TWO)

130406

AMERICAN  POLITICAL  IDEOLOGY: A  BRIEFING  (PART TWO)

Histories of Futures

____________________________________________________________________________

DIMENSIONS OF POLITICS                          DIMENSIONS OF POSTS

Sectors: All                                                     Importance: ****

Level: National                                               Scope: USA only

Period: Long run                                            Process: Power politics

TOPIC:  IDEOLOGY                                       Treatment: Background.

____________________________________________________________________________

OVERVIEW

PRESIDENTIAL  PARTIES   1

Is American politics ideological?  1.1

What general ideologies have American parties adopted?   1.2

What specific themes have American parties invoked?   1.3

CONGRESSIONAL PARTIES   2

American politics has been mostly about national political economy...  2.1

... usually accompanied by a weaker regional dimension    2.2

American politicians seldom change their ideological positions   2.3

PUBLIC  OPINION   3

Two kinds of ideologies   3.1

Four kinds of voters   3.2

“Conflicted Conservatives”  3.3

____________________________________________________________________________

SERIES

This is one in a series of Posts sketching HISTORIES OF  FUTURES of American politics. The  series tries to identify processes that have run through most of American political history, continue today, and may well continue into the future.

This Post is the second of two on historical tensions within American political IDEOLOGY. The first Post (130330) reported two COMMENTARIES on how American ideology got where it is today. This Post reports insightful recent political science RESEARCH on American ideology, past and present.

Earlier Posts on Histories of Futures outlined the successive GENERATIONS in American politics (030316, 100323). Later posts will treat subnational REGIONS that still affect American politics and trace the succession REGIMES in American political development.  ____________________________________________________________________________

SOURCES

John Gerring 1998  Party ideologies in America, 1828-1996. New York NY: Cambridge University Press, 337  pages.

Keith T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal 2007 Ideology & Congress 2nd rev. ed

New Brunswick NJ: Transaction Publishers, 344 pages.

Christopher Ellis and James A. Stimson 2012. Ideology in America. New York NY: Cambridge University Press, 224 pages.

____________________________________________________________________________

OVERVIEW

This Post continues our probe into American political ideology. Last week we looked at a QUALITATIVE approach: current arguments between Far Right and Center Left over whose ideology is the truer expression of America’s true values as revealed over the course of American history. This week we take a QUANTITATIVE approach, reporting three political science approaches to related questions. All of this is remarkable recent research.

The first two books are remarkable for having constructed data sets that carry one, in comparable terms, through most of American political history. For trying to grasp the American experience as a whole, this is much more powerful than a series of different books on different periods written by different scholars with different interests and different terminology. The third book is remarkable for the sophistication with which it unpacks the complexities of American mass public opinion in recent decades.

Party ideologies in presidential campaigns

John Gerring 1998  Party ideologies in America, 1828-1996. New York NY: Cambridge University Press, 337  pages.

The first book begins by establishing that, historically, American political parties have been quite ideological – not merely pragmatic, as often believed. John Gerring has counted the themes emphasized by the presidential candidates in all presidential election campaigns since such mass campaigns began in 1928.  He finds that each party REMAINED preoccupied with the same sorts of issues – the Republicans with promoting business interests, the Democrats with promoting equality.

However, between the 1880s and 1930s, the two parties REVERSED their former positions on the role of government in promoting those ideals. In the 1800s Republicans wanted government to promote and protect American business, so Big Business favord Big Government. By the 1900s business no longer needed government protection and now feared government regulation, so Big Business opposed Big Government. In the 1800s it was the Democrats who feared intervention by a strong central government, in local affairs. However, by the 1900s, Democrats favored Big Government regulation of Big Business. That remains the partisan ideological polarity in the 2000s.

Party ideologies in congressional voting

Keith T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal 2007 Ideology & Congress 2nd rev. ed New Brunswick NJ: Transaction Publishers, 344 pages.

The second book codes and analyses the votes of Members of Congress throughout ALL of USA political history. It strengthens the idea that, regardless of the particular stand that MCs took on particular issues, they remained preoccupied with the same general DIMENSIONS of issues. Indeed, most of the time MCs remained preoccupied with only ONE main dimension. It mostly concerns the NATIONAL-FUNCTIONAL question of the extent to which government should intervene in the private economy – obviously a basic issue for representative democracy in a capitalist economy. Moreover, most of the time, MCs remained extremely CONSISTENT, seldom changing their basic stand on this basic issue. Furthermore, most of the time, MCs remained extremely DISCIPLINED, voting with their party’s ideological position on this basic dimension, regardless of the particular immediate economic interests of the MCs constituents.

The first, major dimension accounts for 83% of all votes. Sometimes a second, minor dimension is present that captures any issues that happen to divide different REGIONS of America at a particular time. Adding that dimension increases accuracy to only 85%. Nevertheless, the presence or absence of that second dimension has been crucial to American political history, which has cycled between having one dimension and high polarization and two dimensions and lower polarization. When a second dimension is present, MCs who disagree with each other on the first, major dimension can find some common ground for working together on the second, minor dimension. When only one dimension is present, MCs disagree with each other on ALL issues and party politics becomes highly polarized and highly ideological. In the 2000s, the USA is in a one dimension, high polarization, intense ideology phase.

During one cycle, in the 1850s over the issue of slavery, the second, regional dimension became more important than the first, national-functional dimension, and still more dimensions may have arisen. This destabilized American politics, destroyed the existing party system, and led to the Civil War. Evidently the higher the number of dimensions, the less governable a polity. Hence the importance of Poole and Rosenthal’s finding that American politics has usually been quite “low dimensional.”

Private ideologies in the public mind

Christopher Ellis and James A. Stimson 2012. Ideology in America. New York NY: Cambridge University Press, 224 pages.

The third book importantly elaborates the longstanding idea that, in their personal ideologies, most ordinary Americans are “symbolically conservative and operationally liberal.” If you ask Americans with what ideology they identify, a large majority always answers “conservative.” But if you ask most Americans about particular policies, a significant majority always prefers most “liberal” policies to most conservative policies. The question is, what does this mean? That Americans are confused? That they hold contradictory positions and don’t realize it? That their inconsistency poses a threat to democray?

Ellis and Stimson show that, to ordinary Americans, the two questions – about identification and bout policies – are really about two quite different subjects. When Americans say that they “identify” as conservative, what they mean is that they respect traditions of national patriotism and local propriety, family values and individual liberty. When Americans say that they prefer liberal policies, they mean just that: they want government to do things for them.

Of course, not all Americans are ideologically inconsistent. Those who are more interested in politics understand that, ideally, their identifications and issues should match, so these people find ways to MAKE them match. For some ordinary people who identify strongly with conservative values, those values are strong enough to drive their issue preferences as well (e.g., small government, conventional lifestyles). Meanwhile, few ordinary people who identify with liberal values prefer conservative policies. Many Americans are ideologically consistent. To Ellis and Stimson, the problematic category is “Conflicted Conservatives”: people who identify strongly with conservative values but strongly prefer liberal policies. These people ARE internally conflicted. and therefore MIGHT become crucial “swing voters.”

PRESIDENTIAL PARTIES   1

John Gerring’s 1996 bookParty ideologies in America, 1828-1996 represents two remarkable new ambitions in political science approaches to American politics. The first ambition is to treat any particular topic across the entire trajectory of American political history, “from beginning to end” (or “through,” as I like to think of it). The second ambition is to do so in some systematic empirical way, basing historical conclusions and interpretations not on vague intellectual history but on something that is available to be measured in some consistent way. Gerring  approaches American political ideology through careful coding of the slogans advanced by the presidential candidates of the two major parties throughout most of American political history.  

Is American politics ideological?   1.1

Gerring begins from the fact that many observers of American politics regard ideology as playing at best only a SMALL role in American politics. Gerring considers a series of explanations commonly given for this supposed fact. He refutes each of those arguments and suggests instead that each argument helps explain why actually ideology plays a LARGE role in American politics.

A first cluster of explanations concerns the general nature of the USA as a whole. Both people and parties are so MATERIALISTIC that politics revolves around specific economic benefits and does not involve general ideology at all. Gerring refutes this by showing that the slogans used by American parties in political campaigns have in fact always included appeals to general principles and included claims that those principles are more important than specific benefits.

It is true that parties themselves have to some extent been built on patronage (specific benefits given to party workers or supporters). However, that has not prevented parties from being ideological at the same time. It is also true that the MASS American public ia not very ideological, having little grasp of general ideological principles and discussing politics mostly in terms of local community values. But that mass characteristic is largely irrelevant, because it is political ELITES that need ideologies and articulate them.

A second cluster of explanations for why political ideology might play only a small role is that historically America has been highly CONSENSUAL, lacking strong ideological conflicts that could play a large role in party politics. One version of this argument is that America has always been predominantly LIBERAL (in the classical sense of political liberty and free markets). Gerring replies that even if that were the case there could still be plenty to argue about within Liberalism. Besides, it is NOT true that American has always been exclusively liberal. As we say in last week’s Post (130330), America has contained a variety of other ideologies such as civic republicanism and communitarianism.   

The other argument for American Consensus notes the absence of Socialism in the USA. In Europe,

politics in some countries has been highly ideological, mostly arguments between capitalist democracy and social democracy. Since no major party in America has ever advocated socialism, that should lessen disagreement (“ideological distance”) between American parties. However, Gerring argues that American parties are just as far apart as European parties, just both located further to the “right” on the ideological spectrum between socialism (left) and capitalism (right). It is true that the Democratic party stands to the right of most European social democratic parties, but it is also true that the Republican party stands even further to the right than most European conservative parties. This is a point worth noting: in America, economic conservatism is VERY conservative!

A third cluster of explanations for why American politics might not be very ideological concerns the structure of politics and parties themselves. The more general version argues that American politics are so FRAGMENTED – in both institutions and participating social groups – that there is no single platform from which anyone could declare a clear ideology and engage in a clear confrontation with another clear ideology. Gerring argues that actually such fragmentation REQUIRES parties to use general ideological appeals in order to OVERCOME the fragmentation and mobilize broad support.

A more specific version of the fragmentation argument focuses on political parties themselves, arguing that the WEAKNESS of American parties prevents their ideologies from having much impact on actual governing and prevents parties from having strong ideologies. Even a winning American party never wins as complete control of  government as does a winning European party. Within an American party elite there is usually more disagreement than within the elite of a European party. American parties do not have strong organization linking party leaders to their electoral base, and that base is too diverse to push party leaders in any particular ideological direction. Besides, for much of American history, party leaders have had little way to know what their followers thought and how they were responding to party appeals. Again, Gerring refutes each of these arguments and shows how they can actually contribute to the NEED of party leaders for some sort of general ideology.

One final word about American parties: there have always been only TWO major ones. That is quite different from most European democracies, most of which have several parties and sometimes many of them. Each of the two American parties must deal with the entire range of issues before the country, whereas many European parties can focus on some specific issue. That does make it easier for those European parties to have clearer ideologies. That is the notion of “party” that many Americans have derived from Europe: a coalition of politicians “standing” for some set of principles. Nevertheless, again, the broad scope of each of the two major American parties makes it all the more important for them to identify some general principles behind which party members and party supporters can rally. Moreover, the fac that there are only two major parties effectively locks most politicians into support for their party’s ideology.  

What ideologies have American parties adopted?   1.2

So, if American parties need ideologies, what ideologies have they adopted?

Gerring argues that there has been some continuity within each of the two major parties (including their precursors in the late 1700s and early 1800s). Republicans have always stood for rapid economic growth led by a strong business class. Democrats have always been critical of any bad effects of such development on ordinary people (page 20). This comes close to saying that Republicans have been the party of capitalist elites and Democrats the party of the laboring masses (earlier, independent agrarian farmers; later, urban industrial workers). 

Despite this continuity, Gerring argues that both parties have undergone major transformations in their ideologies: Republicans once (in the 1920s) and Democrats twice (in the early 1890s and around 1950). The fact that over time both parties have significantly altered their ideologies might make them seem inconsistent and unfaithful to principle. However, such changes have resulted partly from the fact that both parties have very long histories (if one includes their precursors, more than 200 years). This is much longer than the history of most European parties, and indeed of most current nation-states. That 200 years has produced the industrial and democratic revolutions, several global wars, and many accompanying changes. It is hardly surprising that American parties would occasionally need to reformulate their ideologies to adapt to such changes.

Of the ideological adjustments of the two major American parties, arguably the more drastic adjustment has been by Republicans. Remarkably, what Republicans have advocated since the 1920s is mostly the opposite of what they advocated before the 1920s! Nevertheless, both epochs reflected their continuing promotion of Business. Gerring refers to the period before the 1920s as the Republican party’s  NATIONAL epoch and to the period since the 1920s as its  NEOLIBERAL epoch. The “central dichotomy” during Nationalism was “order versus anarchy,” during Neoliberalism “the state versus the individual.”

The main issue for Republicans has been Big Government, meaning mostly the extent to which the national government intervenes in the national economy. Republicans strongly favored Big Government before the 1920s and have strenuously opposed it since! The basic explanation is quite simple: for much of the late 1700s and late 1800s Republicans controlled the national government and used it to promote private economic development. By the late 1800s  Democrats were seeking to use Big Government to regulate Big Business and, in the early 1900s, actually succeeded in doing so, to some extent. Business no longer needed the help of Big Government to develop the economy, and now preferred to minimize any possible further government intervention toregulate the economy.

Another classic Republican issue was tariffs (taxes on manufactured goods imported from abroad). Until the 1920s, Republicans favored high tariffs, after the 1920s they opposed them. Again the explanation is simple: before the 1920s American industry remained somewhat “infant,” benefitting from protection against foreign imports. By the 1920s, American industry had matured to the point that American manufactures had actually achieved a competitive advantage in world markets. American manufactures no longer needed protection from foreign imports, and American exporters now wanted to open markets in other countries to “free trade” in their manufactures. 

Arguably the changes in Democratic ideology were less drastic: instead of a reversal of previous views, one could regard the changes as a natural evolution from previous positions. Democrats startedearly 1800s JEFFERSONIAN concern to protect liberty against tyranny. They then evolved  to late 1800s POPULIST concern to protect “the people” against “the interests” (industrial and financial). Finally Democrats further evolved to mid 2000s UNIVERSALIST concern to guarantee inclusion versus exclusion (of ordinary people, from various opportunities and benefits). The political dynamics underlying these preoccupations were quite different from epoch to epoch, but arguably all three epochs reflect Democrats’ enduring concern for equality.

One way of looking at the Democratic adjustment of ideology in the 1890s is to regard it as a response to the immense and rapid industrialization that had occurred since the 1860s Civil War. However, the Democrats’ adjustment was rather odd (“path dependent,” a political scientist might say). Democrats – or at least their main candidate for president – did NOT focus on protecting the industrial urban working class from the rigors of capitalist industrialization. Instead three-time Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan focused on the notionally harmful effects of capitalist industrialization on independent agrarian farmers (273-274. These had been the heroes of Democratic ideology since Jefferson and Jackson (constraining Democrats to that “path”). By the 1930s Democrats had embraced the urban working class as well, though NOT to favor socialist radicalism. The second reformulation of Democratic ideology that emerged around 1950 generalized a moderate version of New Deal and World War II goals into a quite moderate left ideology appropriate to a Cold War with Socialism (274).

A final general point worth noting about Gerring’s epochs in American party ideology is that they are NOT epochs in the American party system or in American politics as a whole. They are epochs specific to each party, separately – two epochs for Republicans and three epochs for Democrats. Moreover, the time periods of the separate epochs do not match up: Republicans change their ideology at one time (the 1920s), Democrats at others (the early 1890s and around 1950). This periodization may be correct, particularly for American PRESIDENTIAL parties. But it is a somewhat different periodization from that in most other analyses of American politics, in which the parties are always the opposite of each other on the same issues and change at the same time. 

What specific themes have American parties invoked?   1.3

What we have said so far summarizes Gerring’s most important general points. We will conclude reporting some more details of Gerring’s analysis, to encourage the reader to consult the original (see particularly the”master chart” on pages 16-17).

During the Republican epoch of NATIONALISM (1828-1924), aside from the “central dichotomy” of “order versus anarchy,” the party emphasized several main themes: Protestantism, moral reform, mercantilism, free labor, social harmony, and statism.

During the Republican epoch of NEOLIBERALISM (1928-1992), aside from the central dichotomy of “the state versus the individual,” main themes were anti-statism, free market capitalism., and right-wing populism.

During the Democratic epoch of JEFFERSONIANISM (1828-1892), aside from the central dichotomy of “liberty versus tyranny,” the party emphasized several main themes: white supremacy, antistatism, and civic republicanism.

During the Democratic epoch of POPULISM (1896-1948), aside from the central dichotomy of “the people versus the interests,” main themes were egalitarianism, majoritarianism, and Christian humanism.

During the Democratic epoch of UNIVERSALISM (1952-1992), aside from the central dichotomy of “inclusion versus exclusion,” main themes were civil rights, social welfare, and redistribution.

CONGRESSIONAL  PARTIES   2

Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal’s 2007 book Ideology & congress is even more remarkable than Gerring’s on presidentialParty ideology. Again we have a determination to treat a topic across all of American political history and to do so through consistent empirical measurements. Their analysis proceeds at a higher level of abstraction than Gerring’s, treating not the SUBSTANCE of the issues involved but the STRUCTURE of issues as a whole. So their conclusions differ somewhat from Gerrring’s, partly because of the different level of analysis, perhaps partly also because their analysis is based on congressional voting whereas Gerring’s is based on presidential party campaigns.

Poole and Rosenberg utilize a remarkable resource, the 13 million votes cast by individual Members of Congress (MCs ) in thousands of roll call votes in the course of the history of the USA congress. (A roll call vote is one in which the name of each MC is called one-by-one and the MC’s vote on a particular issue is recorded.)  Poole and Rosenthal have spent decades computerizing congressional voting data and figuring out how to analyze it mathematically. In one sense Poole and Rosenthal are simply describing the voting behavior of individual MCs.  But in another sense they are identifying the location of each MC within the space defined by general dimensions underlying the specific issues in American politics. The location of parties within that “issue space” is what Poole and Rosenthal mean by “ideology.” Such OPERATIONAL ideology is NOT a consistent PHILOSOPHY, but instead simply an opportunistic packaging of whatever positions a particular political party chooses to take during a particular period.

One might think that any discrepancy between the findings of Gerring and the findings of Poole and Rosenthal is a contradiction that needs to be corrected by further research. That is possible. (In more recent work, Poole seems to have moved toward some of Gerring’s analyses.) However, it is also possible that the discrepancy illustrates an important fact about American political development: that it has involved, not the succession of one neatly coherent system by another, but the piling up of successive different systems and their clashing functioning, simultaneously, side-by-side. The dynamics that Poole and Rosenthal identify within congressional voting take their place alongside a variety of other mechanisms and patterns discovered by other students of American political development. (See the excellent and readable Phil Eversen, Rick Vallelly, and Jim Wiseman [no date] “NOMINATE and American political history: A primer.” NOMINATE is the name of the mathematical method that Poole and Rosenthal use to estimate models from their data. This paper may not yet be published but is available online by searching the title.)  

American politics has been mostly about national political economy...  2.1

Poole and Rosenthal’s main and truly remarkable conclusion is that almost all congressional roll call votes (83%) in American political history can be reduced to one single main dimension of ideological conflict, a dimension that mostly concerns the proper role of the government in the economy (greater or lesser). This is similar to Gerring’s report that Republicans have been preoccupied mostly with the role of Big Government in regulating the economy. What is different is that, for Poole and Rosenthal, the reversal in Republican attitude toward Big Government represents not change but continuity, because Republicans remain preoccupied with the same dimension. This is not to say that Republicans alone have set the national agenda. Unlike Gerring, Poole and Rosenthal find Democrats preoccupied with the same Big Government dimension, regardless of whether they have been for or against Big Government. (They were against it until the 1930s, for it since then.)

We should pause here to note some of the substantive importance of Poole and Rosenthal’s rather abstract finding. In effect they confirm Gerring’s conclusion that the USA is indeed a democracy in which CAPITALISM sets the terms of debate. And the debate proceeds in exactly the terms that many intellectual historians claim, over Locke’s argument that Property is a Natural Right of individuals that no government should violate. (Indeed , a main job of government is to ENFORCE such rights.) As a famous businessman claimed, “The business of America is Business.” Big Government versus Big Business is the central conflict – practical and ideological – around which American politics has revolved.

Nevertheless, the role of government in the economy is not the only issue that falls on this main dimension. In fact, most of the time, virtually all other issues fall on it too! The reason is not that those other issuers do not have their own independent complexity. The reason is that, given that political economy has already established a main dimension, politicians find it convenient to assimilate other issues to that dimension as well. What that means in practice is that virtually all the people who fall on one side of the political economy issue also fall on the same side of virtually all other issues. As a result, most of the time it is possible to put most issues on one inclusive scale from extreme liberalism (far left) to extreme conservatism (far right).

To repeat, given the complexity of the issues facing congress at all times, this finding of basic  “unidimensionality” is quite remarkable. One explanation, already mentioned, is “cognitive convenience.” It is much easier for both politicians and public to think of politicians as arrayed along a liberal-conservative dimension than it is to assign politicians different positions on different dimensions on different issues. But there are other, more political and politically deeper, explanations at work as well. These implications involve mostly the role of mass parties in American politics and, in particular, the role of the elite politicians who run those parties. Alignment of the voting of individual congressmen along one main liberal-conservative dimension is not spontaneous – individuals are NOT that completely in agreement with their party colleagues. That alignment is enforced by party discipline – part of the price that individual politicians pay in order to be part of a coalition of politicians with some hope of exercising power over governance. MCs might wish to vote the straight economic interests of their constituents, but party discipline prevents them from doing so. In the long run, accepting party ideological discipline is in fact the most effective way for MCs to advance at least SOME of their constituents’ economic interests.   

More broadly, one can say that simplification of many complex issues onto one main dimension is part of the price that any political system pays for “aggregating” (grouping together, adding up, sending higher) the myriad preferences expressed by society. Deeper still, one can say that Poole and Rosenthal’s finding of the “low dimensionality” of American political development is a fundamental discovery about American political history. It may be related to the fact that America developed the earliest mass parties in the world, that there were only two of them, and that there was considerable organizational continuity across the history of those parties. Whether the parties enforced the low dimensionality or the low dimensionality permitted party stability remains to be seen. Either way, “low dimensionality” has been crucial to political stability. The proof is what happened when a second strong dimension emerged over slavery (and perhaps more dimensions as well) just before the Civil War.

... usually accompanied by a weaker regional dimension  2.2

Usually a second dimension has been present in American politics that has reflected whatever issues have arisen between REGIONS. In the early 1800s, that issue was slavery; in the late 1800s, monetary policy; in the mid-2000s, civil rights for blacks; and, in the late 2000s, to a limited extent, differences in morality and lifestyle. This second dimension has “crosscut” the first dimension, dividing the “sides” that formed on the first dimension. Politicians who opposed each other on the main issues could still cooperate with each other on minor issues, thereby reducing polarization between the two main parties. Most of the time the minor issues have been relatively mild, permitting such cross-party cooperation.

This second dimension was STRONGEST in the early 1800s run-up to the Civil War. In the 1850s, the regional issue of slavery actually became the major dimension, overriding national economic issues, destabilizing politics and precipitating the Civil War. A regional-racial dimension was again significant from the 1940sa through the 1970s, creating the lowest level of polarization in American political history during “normal” politics (i.e., no Civil War).The second dimension was WEAKEST in the late 1800s, during the peak of American industrialization, and again since the late 1990s, after issues of civil rights for blacks was basically resolved. During those two periods, the virtual absence of a second dimension left the two main political parties strongly polarized on the economic dimension alone. Adding the regional dimension increases the accuracy of Poole and Rosenthal’s model only from 83% to 85%. But the additional 2% has had profound implications for American politics.

Most unusual and disturbing was what happened in the USA around 1850. Then, in addition to slavery becoming a more and more intense issue, other independent issue dimensions may have arisen as well. As political scientists would predict, “high dimensionality” led to ungovernability and the breakdown of one of the two existing parties (the Whigs, split along too many dimensions). Or perhaps the Whigs were just discredited by their agreement to the 1850 Missouri Compromise that, as a concession to the South, included a law requiring the North to return fugitive slaves to the South, a concession that the Whig base in New England could not accept. Either way, the result was the emergence of a new party (the Republicans) , who fought a Civil War to reunite the country on clearer ideological principles (principles with which the South did not agree but had to appear to accept because of military defeat). All of this amounted to the breakdown of the original 1787 Constitution! Certainly not the standard story about the Wise Founders and the Timeless Document they left us!

The 1787 Constitution was a compromise between North and South to allow them to live together in one polity despite the issue of slavery. However, the Founders did not anticipate several things. They thought slavery was dying, but instead mechanization of the harvesting and processing of cotton revived it. The Founders did not anticipate the rapid incorporation of the MidWest and the West into the USA and the strains that would be place on the original constitutional compromise. The burning national question became, should those territories enter the USA as slave states or free states? An intriguing possibility is that it was only the emergence of two mass parties in the 1820s that helped “muffled” that issue, helping postpone constitutional crisis for another three decades.  

Many of the same lines of regional cleavage over racial issues reemerged from the 1940s through the 1970s, but not nearly so acutely. Some observers speak of the USA in this mid-twentieth century period as having a three party system: Republicans, Northern Democrats, and Southern Democrats. (That is how – in order to display Southern Democrats whenever they emerge – Poole and Rosenthal represent the American party system throughout American political history: r for Republicans, d for Democrats, and s for Southern Democrats.) During the 1940s-1970s, the presence of the regional-racial dimension gave the American party system more flexibility, less discipline, and less polarization than usual. The three “parties” could ally with each other in different combinations on different issues, permitting many policies to be “bipartisan.” The 1940s-1970s experience remains  relevant to the present – negatively. Most late twentieth-century observers of American politics grew up in that period and came to regard low polarization and bipartisanship as “normal” for American politics. In fact, across the whole history of American politics, such a high degree of cross-party cooperation, or such a low degree of polarization, has been quite unusual.

Again Poole and Rosenthal’s rather abstract finding illuminates substantive matters: here the sequence of party systems that the USA has had. The standard analysis in American political science has been that  the USA has had a sequence of party systems, as coalitions of interests have “realigned” in a series of “critical elections” (1828, 1860, 1896, 1932). By contrast, in terms of congressional voting in Congress, Poole and Rosenthal 2007 argue that the USA has had only two main party systems: before and after the Civil War. For Poole and Rosenthal, there has been only one “critical election,” and it came in 1852, ten years BEFORE what is usually regarded as the critical election of 1860, leading to the Civil War.

[Some of Poole’s more recent work continues to emphasize  the continuity of the party system from the final end of the Civil War period in 1879 to the present. In other more recent work, Poole has refined his analysis, distinguishing altogether  FOUR (mass) party systems. That does not include the initial elite factions within the Founders between Federalists (precursors of Republicans) and Jeffersonians (precursors of Democrats). Then Poole’s four systems are 1829-1852 (Democrats versus Whigs), 1856-1896 (Democrats versus Republicans), 1897-1928 (Democrats versus a somewhat revised Republicans), and 1932-2012 (liberal Democrats versus conservative Republicans).

Evidently Poole’s division in the 1850s remains the same as that in Poole and Rosenthal 2007 and Poole’s division in the 1930s reflects the “perturbation” that Poole and Rosenthal 2007 acknowledged in the party system at that time. It is not clear, to this reader at least, to what extent Poole’s new division in the 1890s reflects further emphasis on the regional division over monetary issues that Poole and Rosenthal recognized, or some acceptance by Poole of some of Gerring’s substantive distinctions between party ideologies. One also wonders whether the extreme change from low to high polarization between the mid-twentieth century and early twenty-first century might eventually require the acknowledgment of a significantly different new party system.]

Overall, American Political Development has involved a slow cycling between a politics of one dimension and a politics of two dimensions. Dimensionality matters because it influences politicians’ choices and strategies, as Eversen-Valelly-Wiseman explain in the paper cited above. In the 1940s-1970s, Southern Democrats showed that politicians can operate in two dimensions at once, adopting some policies and alliances on one dimension and others on the other. Franklin’s Roosevelt’s avoidance of civil rights issues in favor of economic issues illustrates the major consequences that can follow from a politician’s assumption that he must avoid operating on more than one dimension. Incidentally, Poole and Rosenthal suggest that, for policy to have real lasting effects, it must represent some coalition along the first, main dimension. Policies established by coalitions along the second dimension – or by coalitions that do not represent ANY spatial dimension – don’t last.

American politicians seldom change their ideological positions  2.3

Again we conclude with some further details to encourage readers to consult relevant political science literature. (Unfortunately Poole and Rosenthal 2007 itself is extremely difficult, written for other professionals in the field, not for the general reader.)

A first additional point concerns the behavior of individual politicians. Poole and Rosenthal know exactly how each MC voted during his/her career in congress. They find that the model that fits MC behavior best is one in which each MC moves at most only a small distance during his/her time in congress, and moves only gradually, in a straight line. This model is only a very slight improvement on a still simpler one in which, once an MC takes a position on the major dimension, the MC never moves from it! This too is a remarkable result, both in its substance and in its precision about so many individuals over such a long time. Overall, part of the “microfoundations” of Poole and Rosenthal’s analysis is that MC’s – particularly party leaders – are professionals who know exactly what they want in terms of policy results. And, in a legislative body whose main function is raising and spending money, MCs can calculate those results rather precisely.

Extreme MC consistency is all the more remarkable since presumably parties are NOT disciplining MCs never to slightly change their personal positions. Perhaps the most likely explanation is that personal position becomes an important component of each politician’s “brand,” about which the MC must remain consistent in order to remain credible. Another explanation is that MCs become deeply personally committed to their ideological convictions. Evidently this IS the case for those politicians who are willing to pay a high political price for remaining true to some principle or course of action. In any case, it validates the common practice of characterizing individual politicians as consistently occupying some consistent position along the political spectrum.

A second point is that this consistency of individual MCs  permits linking up data on voting by MCs with data on other institutional locations within the American political system. For example, one can score a president’s ideological position by his votes when he was an MC, or by the congressional votes that, as president, he supports or opposes. One can also link national and subnational levels through individual politicians who have migrated from one level to the other (and it takes only a few such individuals to calibrate entire subnational legislatures). This solves a longstanding problem in American political science, namely how to put national and subnational institutions onto the same ideological scale, and to do so with precision. Here an interesting preliminary result is that the legislatures of different states occupy quite different positions along the main American ideological spectrum. For example, as one thought, California IS in fact extremely liberal, relative to other states, even fairly liberal states such as New York. (See Boris Shor, Christopher Berry and Noalan McCarty 2010 “A bridge to somewhere: Mapping state and congressional ideology on a cross-institutional comon space.”Legislative studies quarterly 35,3 (August) 1-32. This article shows that the relationship between political polarization and economic inequality that Poole and Rosenberg found over time at the national level also holds across states at the subnational level.

PUBLIC  OPINION   3

A few keen observers of American politics have argued for some time that, in their political ideology, most Americans are “symbolicaly conservative” but “operationally liberal.”  That is, if you ask Americans whether they identify themselves as conservative or liberal, more than half will say conservative. However, if you ask them what kinds of policies they want from government, more than half will choose liberal policies.

To most observers, this has appeared contradictory. To political sophisticates, values and policies should agree: conservative values should lead to conservative policies, and people who prefer conservative policies should have conservative values. (The same for liberals, of course.)

Few observers took this “disconnect” between values and policies very seriously, dismissing it as some failure of understanding on the part of the mass public. However, recently two poltical scientists, Ellis and Stimson,  have explored this disconnect to reveal the complex structure of American mass public opinion.

Two kinds of ideology   3.1

A first point is that the two different answers, rather than contradicting each other, are really, from the point of view of the public, answers to two quite different questions. The symbolic and the operational versions of ideology are not “two sides of the same coin,” but instead two different types of currency. One of them is personal rather than political, the other is political in the sense of involving choice among government policies.

The first question, with which ideology do you identify, is indeed a question about the person’s “identity”: what kind of a person are you. The answer most Americans give is that they are conservative in the sense of having great respect for traditional American values of family, work, and country.  Evidently respect for such values is the “default” ideology for most Americans – that is, the ideology wi th which they identify unless they have developed some reason (such as liberal policy preferences) to do otherwise.

The second question, what kind of policies do you want froim government, is simply that: what do you want the government to do for you?  Most ordinary Americans do not connect the answer to the more general values with which they identify.

Four kinds of voters   3.2

A second main point is that, in terms of ideology,  the Amerifcan electorate contains  four main types of voters, two consistent and two inconsistent. (This leaves aside about 20% of the electorate who choose not to express any ideological preference, or who identify themselves as “moderates” falling in the very middle of the political specturm.)

The two consistent types are people with conservative values who prefer conservative policies (about 15% of the electorate) and people with liberal values who prefer liberal policies (about 30% of the electorate). These two types are analytically unproblematic in the sense that there seems little else to explain. Nevertheless, it may be that, for the consistently conservative, it is values that drive policies. For the consistently liberal, it may be policies that drive values. That is, since the “default” identity for Americans is conservative, liberals are likely to have had to rework their personal values to accord with their liberal policy preferences.

The two inconsistent types are people with liberal values who prefer conservative policies (at most 3-5% of the electorate) and people with conservative values who prefer liberal policies (about 30% of the electorate or about 22% of the American population as a whole). The number of liberals who prefer conservative policies is very small — in fact so small that they may result simply from errors in the process of surveying opinion. In contrast, people with conservative values who prefer liberal policies – “Conflicted Conservatives” – may be the largest category within the electorate. So they deserve extended treatment.

“Conflicted Conservatives”    3.3

Conflicted Conservatives are pivotal in American politics in two ways. First, holding conservative values, they usually vote Republican. Being a large group, they can be decisive in elections that are close (but not too close, when any few voters could make the difference). Without the support of Conflicted Conservatives, in 1988 Republican George H. W. Bush would have lost to Democrat Michael Dukakis, in 2000 Republican George Bush would have more clearly lost the popular vote to Democrat Al Gore, and in 2004 Bush would have lost to Democrat John Kerry. (181-182) A second way in which Conflicted Conservatives are potentially pivotal is that, already having one foot in each of the two ideological camps, under the right circumstances, they are likely to be available to become swing voters.

What explains the prevalence of “conflicted conservatisim” and the absence of “conflicted liberalism’ (that is, people who profess liberal valuesbut prefer conservative policies).

The first, main step in the explanation is that in the mid-1960s “liberalism” declined suddently and drastically as a prefrred ideology. President Franklin Roosevelt invented and popularized the label “liberal” in the 1930s. He and his policies were popular, and the label “liberal” did achieve much popularity, as a symbol of Democrats’ determination to advance the interests of “the common man,” meaning white “middle class” workers. Even so, the proportion of the electorate that embraced that label remained under half. Then in the 1960s, president Lyndon Johnson tried to extend New Deal social programs to the “underclass” of the permanently disadvantaged and unemployed, particularly poor blacks in the inner cities. Unfortunately for liberals, many inner city blacks soon rioted to protest the inadequacy of Great Society policies. In the minds of the white middle class, “liberalisnm” instantly became associated with “welare” subsidies to “undeserving” poor and with urban black unrest. That was a major permanent blow to “liberalism” as an ideological label and a major event in 20th century American politica history.

The second step in the explanation is that, as rational politic politicians, Republican leaders have endlessly repeated the shortcomings of Democratic liberalism while Democratic leaders have avoiding the term. Instead, Democrats mostly advance each of their (liberal) policies on its merits as a policy, not attaching any ideological label to it. (Or, some Democrats call themselves “progressives.”)  With many attacking the label “liberal” and no one defending it,  the label has become less and less popular with the general public.

The third step in the explanation is simply to note that the mainstream American media transmit this imbalance between attack and defense to the American public. The mainstream media do so in order to remain “objective,” simply reporting what conservative politicians say (and not reporting what liberal politicians don’t say). Despite the media objectivity, the effect is to reinforce the discrediting of liberalism. 

_____________________________________________________________________________

THE SCHEME OF THIS BLOG

DIMENSIONS OF POSTS

Importance of Post: ***** Big development. **** Small development. *** Continuing trend.

Scope of  Post:  USA only. USA-PRC. USA-other.

Type of Process:  Elite power struggle. Elite policy politics. Mass participation.

Type of Treatment:  Current commentary. Comprehensive background. Academic analysis.

DIMENSIONS OF POLITICS

Policy  Sectors:  Security. Economy. Identity

Spatial  Levels:  Supranational. National. Subnational

Temporal  Periods:  Shortrun. Midrun. Longrun

STANDARD  TOPIC  TAGS (BIAOQIAN)

SECURITY

Defense

Diplomacy

Intelligence

Presidency (national security team)

Homeland security

State coercion: Police & Prisons

Citizen violence: Collective riots & Individual harm

ECONOMY

Climate change

Trade & Investment

Fiscal policy

Macroeconomy

Energy & Environment

Business

Employment & Income

IDENTITY

Propaganda

Immigration

Ideology

Race & Ethnicity

Gender & Age

Moral regulation

Alternative lifestyles

SUPRANATIONAL

Global

United Nations

International regimes

Subglobal regions

Major foreign powers

Neighboring countries

Cross-border regions

NATIONAL

Legislative

Executive

Judicial

Parties

Interest groups

Media

Public opinion

SUBNATIONAL

Subnational regions

States

Metropolitan regions

Cities

Counties

Communities & Associations

Citizen participation (elections, activism)

SHORTRUN (Current dynamics)

This week

Past few weeks

Next few weeks

Past few months

Next few months

Past few years

Next few years

MIDRUN (Foreseeable future)

Variables

Cycles

Generations

Regime shift

Transformations

Regime change

Parameters

LONGRUN (History, evolution)

American political development

Comparative political development

Longrun economic growth

Longrun social history

Longrun cultural change

Major civilizations

Human evolution

推荐 11