Political Psychology

By Kristen Renwick Monroe | Go to book overview

14
Long-Term Psychological
Consequences of Political Events
DAVID O. SEARS
University of California, Los Angeles

Debates about democratic theory are inevitably layered on political psychological assumptions. One point of tension concerns the quality of the ordinary citizens' political thinking. Do they have sufficiently informed, stable, and thoughtful preferences to make rational political choices? Do they process information well enough to have trustworthy judgment? Or are they poorly informed, emotional, easily swayed, and with judgment so poor that it should be kept at some distance from the instruments of political power? Key (1966), perhaps echoing some early Jeffersonian sentiment, is famously quoted as saying that “voters are no fools, ” while the Federalists were considerably more concerned about the momentary passions that might sway ordinary people, and helped construct a republican political system that diluted the voice of “the people. ”

A second point of tension concerns the relationship between political life on the one hand, and ordinary daily life on the other. Sometimes it is thought that the psychological dynamics involved in responding to the two are very similar. I think not, for reasons I give in this chapter.

A third point concerns the relationship between elites and the mass public. Do elites typically manipulate the mass public's preferences in their own interests? Or at the other extreme, are elites so dependent on public opinion that they spend their time anxiously taking polls in the hope of finding campaign appeals and policy proposals that will generate public support? In between these two extremes there is obviously considerable room for a

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