The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Public
The term ideology has been muddied by diverse uses. We shall instead use belief system, as a configuration of ideas an attitudes in which the elements are bound together by some form of constraint or functional independence. Constraint refers to the probability that a change in the perceived status of one ideal element would psycollogically require some compensating changes in the status of idea elements else where in the configuration.
Centrality according to the role they play in the belief system as a whole, and range. Wide ranges with some centrality of political objets can be presumed to have some relevance in politi behavior.
Sources of Constraints: educated elites in general and political elites in particular think about elements involved in political belief system with a frequency greater than that characteristic of mass publics. The social sources of constraint are that thee idea elements go together for a more abstract and quasi logical reason developed from a coherent world view.
Second, elements of a belief system tends to be diffused in packages. As one moves form elite sources of belief systems downwards on such an information scale, the contextual grasp of standard political belief systems fades, and increasingly simpler forms of information turn up missing. As one moves downward the constraint declines across the universe of idea-elements and the range of relevant belief systems becomes narrower. Moving from top to bottom of this information dimension, the character of the objects that are central in a blief system undergoe a systematic change.
Objects shift form the remote, abstract and generic, to the simple, concrete and close to home.
Levels: top level IDEOLOGUES, abstract and far reaching conceptual dimension and evaluate over time, in the next level NEAR IDEOLOGUES no evaluative dependence appears. In the third level GROUP INTEREST there is no over arching dimensions. Fourth level NATURE OF THE TIMES is a residual category (nature of the times). The fifth level is for those whose evaluations of the political scene had no shred of policy significance NO ISSUE CONTENT.
Ideologues and near ideologues represented by the first bar of each graph are opinion leaders par excellence. While they tend to be disproportionately well educated, they nevertheless include representatives of social milieux. Empirically they differ form the less sophisticated in their attention to new political events and in the size of their store of information about past events. There is one other type of relationship, the one within the family, evidence shows that the wifes are likely to follow their housbands.
Large portions of an electorate do not have meaningful beliefs, even on issues that have formed the basis for intense political controversuy among elites for substantial periods of time. For the truly involved citizen, the development of political sophistication means the absorption of contextual information that makes clear to him the connections fo the policy area that these broader configurations of policy positions are describable quite economically in the basic abstractions of ideology. Most members of the mass public, fail to proceed so far.
Ideological constraints in belief systems decline with decreasing political information, chich is to say that they are present among elites at the top of political systems and disappear rapidly as one moves downward. Reduced constraint with reduced information means that ideologically constrained belief systems are more common in upper social. This means that upper social strata across history have much more predictably supported conservative parties and movements than lower strata.
These facts have bearing on asymmetries in political strategy, which arise between elites of rightinst and leftist. Elites recognize their natural clienteles in upper and lower strata. Therefore, leftist parties enjoy a numerical superiority naturally , yet their clientele is less dependable or solidary. Cohesion and loyalty is bigger is right parties.