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July 10, 2003

the place of ideology

I have been approached by a publisher about the idea of writing a popular guide to politics for new voters, in time for the 2004 campaign season. I don't know if this idea will come to pass, but it's interesting.

Perhaps the "ideal citizen" would make an independent and informed judgment about each issue and also each candidate, and then vote accordingly. But none of us has the time or energy to do this. Instead, we use shortcuts to make our voting choices. The most common shortcut, I believe, is to choose a political identity for oneself: for example, "liberal" or "conservative," or something somewhat more complicated, like "pro-choice conservative" or "social liberal/fiscal conservative." We then learn how to identify the candidates who fit this label, based on clues in their rhetoric and a few issues that serve as proxies. If we are better-than-average citizens, then we choose an ideology in a provisional way, trying to stay open-minded and to understand the merits of alternative views. But we still use ideology as a cue. CIRCLE surveys show that people who cannot place themselves on an ideological scale or identify the differences between Democrats and Republicans also do not vote.

Thus I may propose to write a book that begins with a quiz, designed to identify the reader's starting ideology or political identity. If a reader chooses "don't know" as an answer to any question, he or she will be sent to pages in the book that introduce the relevant issue. Once the reader has completed the quiz and identified a provisional ideology, the rest of the book will help him or her to (a) think critically about the pros and cons of this ideology and (b) learn how to identify candidates who espouse it.

July 10, 2003 11:28 AM | category: none


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