Saturday, June 02, 2018

Ideological Innocence Of The Fox News Viewer

1.0 Introduction

This post deals with a set of ideas that I find appealing, but contradictory. I know I do not fully understand many of them. Perhaps somebody who understands more can either agree with me that there are contradictions here or point to some way of resolving them. This post is also more about current events than is typical of my posts.

2.0 Ideological Thinking, Ideological Identification, And Party Identification

Consider Philip Converse's claim that a mass majority of the public is innocent of ideology, as contrasted with the non-innocence of elites. I know these ideas best as filtered through Kinder and Kalmoe (2017).

Ideological thinking is not a defect, in Kinder and Kalmoe's account. An ideology, such as liberalism or conservatism in contemporary America, structures how you understand and retains facts. Otherwise, the world, in at least its political aspects, will appear as a blooming, buzzing confusion. Ideological thinking can be seen in a couple of ways. First, when surveying people about issues, you can listen to how they justify their stance. Do they refer to liberalism or conservatism? Second, do they exhibit a certain constraint on issues. For example, if they are against abortion generally being illegal, are they also against the death penalty? (Kinder and Kalmoe define issues narrowly. They do not consider a take on whether a larger or smaller government is desirable as a political issue, as opposed to a more philosophical issue.)

Kinder and Kalmoe note that being informed about politics takes quite a bit of work. I think their take goes along with some of Ahler and Broockman's findings on so-called moderates. It is not that moderates necessarily take middle-of-the road positions on issues. Rather, they may take extreme sides on different issues, with no awareness of how they go together, including in prevailing ideologies among those who pay more attention to politics. Apparently, survey questions to test your knowledge of politics are fairly rudimentary. Common practice is to base an assessment on less than twenty multiple-choice questions like: How long is a senator's term? What is Paul Ryan's position? What party was Franklin Delano Roosevelt a member of?

Kinder and Kalmoe distinguish ideological thinking (non-innocence) from both ideological identification and party identification (also known as partisan identification). In the period of their data they find a closer correlation between ideological identification and partisanship, but there are still plenty of people who call themselves conservatives and Democrats. After taking into account of partisanship and stands on issues, ideological identification counts for little.

3.0 Pyschological Traits of Liberals and Conservatives

I think the literature on social psychology about traits among liberals and conservatives is meant to apply to mass publics. John Jost and Jonathan Haidt are the most prominent writers I know of here.

Jost claims liberals are more open to experience; are tolerant of uncertainty; have less need for order, structure, and closure; have more tolerance of ambiguity and less dogmatism; have less fear of death, threat, and loss; and have higher self-esteem. Conservatives are otherwise. Haidt says that liberals' moral intuitions emphasize the avoidance of harm/the provision of care and fairness and reciprocity. Conservatives include these moral concerns. But they also worry more about in-group loyalty, respect for authority, and purity and sanctity.

How does this literature relate to ideological thinking, ideological identity, and partisanship among mass publics in the United States? As I understand Kinder and Kalmoe, they recognize this contrast. They argue that Jost misunderstands their work, and his traits only gets you to ideological identification. I can see how one could be authoritarian, in personality, and be a strong Democrat or even further left. Could an anti-authoritarian be a strong Republican in the current conjecture?

Do those who have read these literatures think more could be said here?

4.0 Marshall McLuhan And Media

How is all of the above modified by contemporary events? Once upon a time, those on the left decried the biases of the corporate media. They wanted more explicitly class-based channels that were not afraid to affirm a point of view. It is not what they meant, but we now have Fox News. And they explicitly treat "liberal" as a swear word. How much will a regular viewer get a message, which, if accepted and absorbed, will lead to issue constraint, in Kinder and Kalmoe's sense? (Chemtrails are not an issue.)

But if one worries about the message on Fox News, could one accept Marshall McLuhan's take on media? Supposedly reading encourages analytical, linear thought, while television extends your nervous system to be irritated by going-ons throughout the global village. Would this not be just as true for messages on other television channels? Should one just reject McLuhan's approach?

5.0 Some Caveats

In looking at international data, Kinder and Kalmoe convert "liberal" and "conservative" to "left" and "right". I would not call myself a liberal - I would say I'm more somewhere between a democratic socialist and a social democrat. Those who reject the labels "Liberal" and "Conservative", Kinder and Kalmoe classify as non-ideological. I do not know how I would have answered those survey questions. By the way, I voted on a certain resolution on the New York State ballot last time without knowing much about it, but on the grounds that labor unions were opposed. This group-based approach is not ideological thinking, as I understand Kinder and Kalmoe. A Catholic paying attention to the Church's teaching might endorse both making abortion illegal and getting rid of the death penalty. So they would not exhibit, at least on this issue, the kind of constraint Kinder and Kalmoe take as demonstrating ideological thinking. I doubt that many non-elites fall outside their classification, but how could one know?

  • Douglas J. Ahler and David E. Broockman (2015). Does Polarization Imply Poor Representation? A New Perspective on the "Disconnect" Between Politicians and Voters
  • Pierre Bayard (2007). How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read
  • Philip E. Converse (1964). The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics
  • Jesse Graham, Jonathan Haidt, and Brian A. Nosek (2009). Liberals and conservatives rely on different sets of moral foundations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, V. 96, no. 5: pp. 1029-1046.
  • Jonathon Haidt (2013). The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion
  • John J. Jost et al. (2003). Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition
  • Donald Kinder and Nathan P. Kalmoe (2017). Neither Liberal nor Conservative: Ideological Innocence in the American Public
  • Marshall McLuhan (1962). The Gutenberg Galaxy
  • Marshall McLuhan (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man


Anonymous said...

As a politically aware non-American I see a couple of problems with the framing here.

People's opinions are formed out of their late experience and their attitudes.
Attitudes are formed by early experience and personality.

An ideology is created when some brainbox tries to forge his opinions into a self-consistent system of thought. As such they tend to correlate with attitudes. People tend to identify with the ideology that most matches their attitudes, without necessarily holding all the opinions that make it up, nor understanding the system of thought.

The attitudes of liberalism and conservatism are orthogonal, not opposites. The opposite of the liberal attitude is authoritarian. The opposite of the conservative attitude is radical.

The ideology historically called Liberalism is conservative and authoritarian in attitude. Liberalism is in fact the ideology of the American conservative.

So speaking of liberalism and conservatism as opposite ideologies is at best confused.

Anonymous said...

Me again.
Everyone (almost) wants to place all ideologies along a single, one dimensional line. It doesn't work.

To fully relate the dozens of ideologies out there you would need half a dozen dimensions. What those dimensions should be is a matter of research/opinion: Political Spectrum
I find liberal<->authoritarian and radical<->conservative dimensions most meaningful.

Once you have your ideological space mapped out you could draw a line through two, or possibly more, ideologies and call its ends 'left' and 'right' or 'good' and 'bad' but most ideologies will not be on it.

Robert Vienneau said...

Thanks for the comments. I do not know that you are disagreeing.

What issues go with what in some political ideology seem to vary with country and time. Those who have thought a lot about political philosophy might find that they don't fit it with the views found in mass surveys.

I think I'm more willing to accept everybody has an ideology. A view from nowhere is impossible.

That wikipedia article certainly points to a lot of on-topic research.

Anonymous said...

I am agreeing with you that there are contradictions or other problems with the work you cite.

I also agree there is context dependence. In a Communist country Communists would be the conservatives, Liberals the radicals.

Everyone has a viewpoint, a set of attitudes. An ideology is an intellectual construct intended to give a particular viewpoint authority and objectivity. To acquire an ideology you pretty much have to read a book.

So I agree with Converse that "a mass majority of the public is innocent of ideology, as opposed to elites." Political parties, especially in two-party states, have to appeal to as many people as they can. Each party will contain believers in several ideologies, none of which will be clearly articulated to the hoi-polloi so as not to scare them off or appear disunited. Instead ambiguous pseudo-ideologies are presented; their 'messaging'. These are what the mass surveys reflect, and what the deep thinkers find unsatisfying.

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