How should ideology be understood, and should we be concerned if Americans lack it? Combining widely used survey questions with an incentivized coordination game, we separately measure individuals’ own policy preferences and their knowledge of what other ideological group members expect them to believe. This allows us to distinguish knowledge of ideological norms—what liberals and conservatives believe ought to go with what—from adherence to those norms. We find that a nontrivial portion of those reporting ideologically inconsistent preferences do so knowingly, suggesting their lack of ideological constraint can be attributed to pragmatism rather than innocence. Additionally, a question order experiment reveals that priming ideological norms before measuring policy preferences promotes ideological adherence, suggesting ideological constraint is at least partially attributable to norm-conformity pressure. Together, these findings raise the question whether ideology is actually desirable or if it instead allows elites to reverse the direction of accountability.
Groenendyk, E., Kimbrough, E. O., & Pickup, M. (2022), How norms shape the nature of belief systems in mass publics. American Journal of Political Science. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12717
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