Do y’all know what political ideology is? How about your own political ideology?
Ideology is one of those interesting areas of politics that most Americans are simply not fully informed enough to understand. Yet, I could almost guarantee you that most people base their political beliefs on their “ideological” convictions.
So, for example, someone might be a staunch conservative and claim to believe x,y, and z about certain political issues. But, if I were to deeply analyze x,y, and z, it’s highly likely that I’d find y to actually be more liberal, x is moderately conservative and z is very conservative. In other words, there is not consistent or coherent conservative belief set here. And the same could be said of most proclaimed liberals.
You see, the fact is: we, and most Americans, are not very consistent with our political beliefs.
I like to have a deep and philosophical reason for why I believe what I believe about government. If someone wants to ask me why I don’t agree with abortion, or government run healthcare etc, I’d have a fairly deep and grounded means of answering. However, I’d have a harder time on some other issues, which is why I study. I’m sure that y’all feel the same.
If someone were to really challenge you on why you believe what you say you believe, could you answer? Could you stand your ground? Could you say more than, “Because I believe it, or because it’s right!”?
Because friends, believe me, if we’re going to have a fighting chance at taking this country back, we’ve got to really know what we believe but more importantly why we believe it.
So, with that being said, I’m going to educate y’all on some facts about what political ideology is, the political ideology of Americans, some of the trends, and then give you a link to a political ideology quiz. Take the quiz and see what you find out about yourself. The quiz forces you to answer in extremes, which is irritating, but it does force you to go to the end of your beliefs. Think about your beliefs and why you believe them. Are they consistent with each other? Could you call yourself a conservative or a liberal across every single issue, or are you all over the place? If you are all over the place, why? Is it because of well thought out and intentional choices or simply because you really don’t know where you stand?
I’m putting on my professor hat today, so buckle up and let’s get learning!
One: What is political ideology?
Based on a reputable text book, political ideology is defined as: a more or less consistent or coherent set of beliefs about what policies government ought to pursue.
Here’s the thing about ideology, it is not automatically related to one’s political party affiliation. We all sort of assume it is, but it is not.
Partisanship is literally defined as an individual’s identification with a party; whether they consider themselves a Democrat, Republican, or Independent.
That doesn’t have anything to do with someone’s consistent set of beliefs about what policies government should or shouldn’t pursue. Weird right?
Parties are a whole other organizational feature that I can explain and explore another time, but for now just try to not think about your political party affiliation and focus exclusively on what you believe that the government should or should not make laws about (policy = law). That is your ideology.
Two: What does it mean to have a consistent or coherent set of ideological beliefs?
So, let’s break this down. For someone to be deeply ideological (which BTW, most Americans are not), they have to first know what they believe and then consistently apply that worldview to every political issue. This means that someone’s belief about issues such as taxes, spending, gun control, abortion and the like should all either fall under a conservative view of government or a liberal view of government… or some other ideological view of government … consistently.
Think of it this way. If you believe that it’s not government’s right to tell you what to do with your personal property (e.g. guns) then you should also, to be consistent, believe this about all personal property (e.g. drugs; your body etc).
Is this making sense?
Three: How ideology works for most Americans
So, basically, it doesn’t.
Most evidence supports the fact that the majority of Americans are not deeply ideological. Their views are not tightly aligned to neat liberal or conservative bundles——like political elites (e.g. politicians, lobbyists, lawyers, judges etc). In fact, and this is sad, usually it is the people who reflect the ideologies of the political elites rather than the political elites reflecting the ideologies of the people.
Because the more informed someone becomes, the more clearly defined and coherent their ideology becomes. So, political elites have the most clearly defined and rationalized ideologies and in turn their ideologies influence and direct the ill-informed Americans who do not have such clearly defined ideologies.
And yes, that is sad.
This doesn’t mean that all Americans have no beliefs at all, but—frankly, most American don’t really have many beliefs at all. Think about it. Most Americans are incredibly disengaged from politics and government. They either don’t care or if they do it’s only at the most basic level and they align themselves to a party and vote for who the party says to vote for and believe what the party says to believe. The unfortunate truth is this: the vast majority of Americans simply do not think about politics in an ideological or very coherent manner.
In fact, and get this, most Americans choose their beliefs according to what the political party tells them their beliefs should be since they align with that party, rather than choosing their party based upon their already firmly established coherent set of beliefs.
Now, for the Americans who do have some form of beliefs, most of these beliefs are not profound and are certainly not consistent.
Most individuals cannot accurately define their ideological affiliation. In other words, people might claim to be liberal, but when asked what they believe, many of their beliefs would actually be defined as conservative beliefs, meaning these people cannot even accurately define their own political ideology.
So, because of this, surveyors have decided not to believe or use a person’s self-identification anymore and instead ask people various questions about their beliefs and use those answers to categorize the individual as liberal or conservative. In other words, if you see a report that says 52% of the population is conservative and 48% liberal, most likely the surveyor came up with that statistic based upon the compilation of all the conservative and liberal answers that allow them to categorize the respondents as either liberal or conservative. If you want to find out how you would be categorized, try out this ideology quiz.
Four: Challenge Yourself
It’s important to know where you stand and be consistent with where you stand. That usually comes from knowing why you stand where you stand.
So, let me challenge you to think about a few things:
Do you favor smaller federal government? Why?
Less government surveillance
Less federal regulation of most anything outside of the Constitution (including morality)
Do you favor larger federal government? Why?
More government surveillance
More government regulation on everything
Specific Issue: Is it government’s job to provide welfare and aid?
No social security
No medicare or medicaid
Medicare and medicaid
Realize that many questions for someone’s beliefs on issues like abortion, gay marriage, taxes, spending, immigration and the like are reasonably answered by knowing how to answer those first two questions for yourself and knowing why you answered the way you answered.
If I were to ask, what do you believe about immigration law and why? Could you answer coherently?
The problem is that most people are not consistent on any of their beliefs. They want more government in one area and less in another. They demand lower taxes while demanding more government.
Five: A Few Closing Thoughts
Here’s what I believe about having a clear and consistent ideology. Fundamentally, you first must know what you believe government’s job is—why do we need government in the first place?—in order to even begin to articulate your feelings on all other beliefs.
Once you have that basic foundation established, you can then begin to see how that basic belief and understanding of the world colors your other beliefs about all the issues and about what government should or should not make policy about. Hence, your ideology.
Trust me. Most people don’t have the slightest idea what they believe about government, rights, liberty, or law. They don’t even know what those concepts mean really. Yet, they’ll rage about abortion, or taxes, or some right to this or that. Of course, when push comes to shove, they really have no clue what they’re talking about or why they have chosen their opinion in the first place.
And honestly, we all have the potential to be that way. So, it’s important to start really thinking hard about what you believe about each issue and then why you believe it.
Why are you for or against affirmative action, climate change, increased taxes for the rich, government mandated abortion, welfare, the recent bailouts and stimulus bills, gun rights, corporate regulations, harsh punishment for criminals, the death penalty, military strength, government surveillance, immigration laws, and gay marriage…just to name a few?
Do you know know where you stand on these issues and could you explain why?
And let me add another layer. From an American perspective, whose job is it to handle these issues? The federal government’s or state government’s? You may not want the federal government legalizing abortion nationally but may be OK with state level abortion laws.
Also, one final note. Studies have shown that the more ideological someone is, the more politically active they are. Why? Because those who are ideological, knowledgeable and coherent know where they stand on issues and why. Such a foundation causes them to be engaged in political issues and voting because they feel strongly enough about the issues to learn or because learning increases their passion. So, there are more benefits to having an ideologically informed citizenry than just being ideologically sound and coherent.
This is a lot to chew on… I know, but it’s important and part of really informing yourselves and challenging yourselves to know why you stand where you stand.
Now, more than ever, we cannot allow ourselves to be ignorant about what we believe and why we believe it. Being settled in what and why we believe what we believe allows us to take any new policy or issue in stride. If we have a clear, coherent and consistent worldview, we can then simply filter through new issues and form educated opinions easily.
Trust me. A nation full of people like that would turn our government upside down.
The Liberty Belle