In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ideological Reasoning in Politics

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Journals
  • Classic Works
  • Types of Ideology
  • Political Sophistication and Mass–Elite Differences in Ideology
  • Ideological Constraint
  • Ideological Polarization and Sorting
  • Values and Ideology
  • Psychological Precursors of Ideology
  • Macro-Ideology

Political Science Ideological Reasoning in Politics
Paul N. Goren
  • LAST REVIEWED: 07 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0233


The study of mass ideology has animated public opinion research in the United States and beyond for over half a century. Although scholars often disagree on the precise definition of ideology, a common theme in most work centers on the role that the liberal–conservative continuum plays in shaping public opinion and guiding political behavior. In books and journals, scholars have studied the nature of ideology. Among these are the following: different types of ideology, the degree of ideological consistency in political preferences, the relationship between political sophistication and ideological reasoning and evaluation, mass–elite differences in ideological reasoning and evaluation, ideological polarization and sorting, the relationship between values and ideology, the underlying psychological and physiological precursors that undergird ideological attachment and expression, and the way in which macro-level ideology affects system-level variables such as election outcomes and public policy. The answers to these questions speak directly to profound theoretical and normative questions about preference formation in the mass public, the origins of ideology, mass–elite communications, citizen competence, and the extent to which the institutions of representative government are responsive to collective public preferences for more or less government. Scholars have employed diverse methods and techniques to study, measure, and assess the nature and effects of ideology in public thinking. This article focuses primarily on mass ideology in the context of the United States, but it also references important works drawn from the fields of comparative political behavior and comparative political psychology.

General Overview

Given the high rate of production of ideology studies, scholars have produced extensive review essays summarizing key developments in the field every five to ten years. The studies referenced in this section cover research from the seminal pieces that appeared in the early 1960s to 2015. The sequence is as follows: Converse 1975; Kinder and Sears 1985; Gerring 1997; Kinder 1998; Converse 2000; Jacoby 2002; Mair 2007; Lewis-Beck, et al. 2008; Jost, et al. 2009; and Carmines and D’Amico 2015. These works all touch on ideology, with some covering other aspects of public opinion and political behavior.

  • Carmines, Edward G., and Nicholas J. D’Amico. “The New Look in Political Ideology Research.” Annual Review of Political Science 18 (2015): 205–216.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev-polisci-060314-115422

    This recent update on the state of field emphasizes the economic and social dimensions of ideology.

  • Converse, Philip E. “Public Opinion and Voting Behavior.” In Handbook of Political Science. Vol. 4. Edited by Fred I. Greenstein and Nelson W. Polsby, 75–169. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1975.

    Exhaustive summary of developments in the field penned by the leading scholar of mass ideology. Converse provides a thoughtful and balanced overview of his seminal contributions (see also Campbell, et al. 1960 and Converse 1964, both cited under Classic Works) and the work of his critics.

  • Converse, Philip E. “Assessing the Capacity of Mass Electorates.” Annual Review of Political Science 3 (2000): 331–353.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.3.1.331

    Converse reflects on over three decades of research on ideology, public opinion, and citizen competence, with an emphasis on the most important works produced during the 1990s.

  • Gerring, John. “Ideology: A Definitional Analysis.” Political Research Quarterly 50 (1997): 957–994.

    Provides an extensive analysis of the many different ways in which scholars have conceptualized ideology.

  • Jacoby, William G. “Liberal–Conservative Thinking in the American Electorate.” In Political Decision-Making, Participation, and Deliberation. Vol. 6. Research in Micropolitics 6. Edited by Michael X. Delli Carpini, Leonie Huddy, and Robert Y. Shapiro, 97–147. Boston: JAI, 2002.

    Focused and detailed review of the different ways in which scholars have conceptualized and measured ideology and how individual differences in political sophistication affect ideological reasoning.

  • Jost, John T., Christopher M. Federico, and Jaime L. Napier. “Political Ideology: Its Structure, Functions, and Elective Affinities.” Annual Review of Psychology 60 (2009): 307–337.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.60.110707.163600

    An excellent overview of the psychological precursors that underlie mass ideology and how these interact with elite framing to shape ideological judgement.

  • Kinder, Donald R. “Opinion and Action in the Realm of Politics.” In Handbook of Social Psychology. 4th ed. Edited by Daniel T. Gilbert, Susan T. Fiske, and Gardner Lindzey, 778–867. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1998.

    A comprehensive summary of developments in the study of public opinion, political ideology, and political behavior between 1985 and 1998.

  • Kinder, Donald R., and David O. Sears. “Public Opinion and Political Action.” In Handbook of Social Psychology. 3d ed. Edited by Gardner Lindzey and Elliot Aronson, 659–742. New York: Random House, 1985.

    A comprehensive study of public opinion, political ideology, and political behavior since the publication of Converse 1975.

  • Lewis-Beck, Michael S., William G. Jacoby, Helmut Norpoth, and Herbert F. Weisberg. The American Voter Revisited. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.3998/mpub.92266

    This book replicates the analyses carried out in the field’s foundational work on political behavior (see also Campbell, et al. 1960, cited under Classic Works) and provides extensive commentary on developments in the study of ideology over time. The authors find that ideological thinking in the mass public in 2000 had advanced slightly beyond the minimal levels observed in the 1950s.

  • Mair, Peter. “Left–Right Orientations.” In The Oxford Handbook of Political Behavior. Edited by Russell J. Dalton and Hans-Dieter Klingemann, 206–223. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    Mair provides a brief informative summary of work on values and left–right ideology in comparative perspective.

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