HGov: Frames of Reference

The ways in which citizens think politically provide clues about the way in which public opinion is likely to affect government. Government in a democratic system is expected to act more often in accordance with public opinion than against it.

The frames of reference that guide Americans’ opinions include cultural thinking. Americans embrace a common set of ideals. Principles such as liberty, equality, and individualism are a source of agreement, but have also meant somewhat different things to Americans.

Ideological thinking describe how Americans think about politics. An ideology is a consistent pattern of political attitudes that stems from a core belief. However, most citizens do not have a strong and consistent ideological attachment. Nevertheless, ideological terms are a meaningful shorthand way to describe broad tendencies in political attitudes. Americans are categorized into four ideological types: liberals, conservatives, libertarians, and populists. For most citizens, groups are more important reference than ideology.

Individuals develop opinions as a result of group orientations—notably, religion, income level, occupation, region, race, ethnicity, gender, and age. Although group loyalty can have a powerful impact on people’s opinion, this influence is diminished when identification with one group is offset by identification with other groups. In a pluralistic society such as the United States, groups tend to be crosscutting.

Crosscutting cleavages tend to produce moderate opinions. In the everyday world of politics, no source of opinion more clearly divides Americans than that of their partisanship. Partisanship is a major source of political opinions; Republicans and Democrats differ in their voting behavior and views on many policy issues.

6.3 Frames of Reference: How Americans Think Politically (read pp.196-208)



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