American Ideology and Public Opinion

In part 1 of chapter II, we studied the American Political Culture. This week, we are going to study part 2: American Ideology and Public Opinion.

Ideology is a set of ideas and beliefs about political values and the role of government in people’s lives. In the United States, two major schools of political thought are dominant: liberalism and conservatism. However, the United States is a multi-ethnic and multi-racial society where most citizens share the American Dream and practice their personal life and political convictions freely as guaranteed by the Constitution. But despite this diversity, most Americans continue to identify with their ethnic group even after many generations. People learn their political values, attitudes, and beliefs through the process of political socialization in which family, religion, gender gap, and education play an important role.

–          Role of the family: People in America identify with their parents’ ideas, values, and preferences, so that when they grow up, they identify with the Democratic party, the Republican party, or remain independent.

–          Religion: “Religious traditions and differences influence political attitudes. Catholics are more liberal than Protestants. Jews tend to me more liberal on both economic and social issues. Christian evangelicals tend to focus more on social issues than economic issues…..The more orthodox the individual, the more likely they are to be conservative on economic or social issues, or both”,  Franco Scardino in U.S. Government and Politics.

–          The Gender Gap: Men are more conservative than women on social issues such as gun control and the size of government. Women, on the other hand, favor government that provides more services in health care and education.

–          Education: Those who have a college education are more likely to be liberal and take part in the political process than those who do not.

–          Differences in Public Opinion: These arise  on the basis of race, ethnicity, region, income, occupation, age, and sexual orientation.

+ African-Americans are largely Democrats.

+ White are more likely to identify with Republicans.

+ Latinos identify more with the Democratic party especially on issues of immigration, and bilingual education programs.

+ Asian-Americans are likely to identify with the Republican Party.

 These differences also depend by region.

+ Southern states are consistently supportive of the Republican Party.

+ Big cities are supportive of the Democratic Party. North-East is overwhelmingly democratic.

 +In terms of income, the wealthy identify with the Republican party. Lower-income Americans support the Democratic party.

+ Younger voters are more likely to support the Democratic party than older ones.

 Ideology and Tolerance:

 Both liberals and conservatives oppose crime and lawbreaking. However, while liberals concern themselves more with the rights of the criminal and the cause of the crime,  “conservatives tend to take a much harder line against criminals and are more concerned with the victims of crime and punishing perpetrators than protecting the rights of the accuses”. Franco Scardino in US Government and Politics.


Liberals emphasize individual rights and consider government a threat to liberty. However, in modern times, they want government to play a more active role to regulate the economy, create social programs, and bring about social justice and equal opportunity, “they hold optimistic views on human nature and trust government programs to help people overcome obstacles. President Harry Truman said: “We have rejected the discredited theory that the fortunes of the nation should be in the hands of the privileged few….Every individual has a right to expect from his government a fair deal””


Contrary to liberals, Conservatives want government to be as small as possible with the exception of the area of military defense. They believe in free enterprise and private property. They advocate the government should keep the peace through strong leadership and strict moral codes. They also reject new taxes on income. “They believe that the market should provide social services rather than government. Human needs should be rendered by families, places of worship, and charitable organizations”. Franco Scardino US Government and Politics.

 However, it would be wrong to label either according to a fixed definition. There are groups within the same school that tend to share the values or at least some of the values of the other camp. Consider for example the positions of the pure liberals, the pure conservatives, libertarians, social conservatives (populists), socialists, environmentalists (members of the Green Party) for example to understand the diverse sources of political affiliations in the United States.

 Political Elites:

They have a disproportionate amount of power and influence in politics. They run for office, work on campaigns, lead interest groups, and speak out on public issues. “Candidates for office, and elected officials, are far more likely to be either liberal or conservative in their views on policy matters. This makes compromise on many social and economic issues much more difficult to achieve”, Franco Scardino, US Government and Politics.

 While the general voting public tends to the political center, elites are more ideological in their views. Elites raise and set the agenda of issues and decide public policy preferences.

 Thank you.