Voting, Role of the
Media, and Tolerance
How do Americans think and feel about politics? The political thoughts and feelings of the American public have been the subject of intense and prolific research since the 1950s. Questions such as, How sophisticated is the public about politics and democratic ideals? How much attention do Americans pay to political information? How do people process and use information (particularly during electoral campaigns)? and How do Americans make decisions when deciding for whom to vote? have been important in political psychology. In addition, political psychologists have been interested in the impact of the media on American political thinking.
Another important question raised by political psychologists about American political beliefs concerns the issue of how tolerant Americans are of views contrary to their own. Needless to say, in a democracy this is an extremely important matter, because democratic ideals hinge upon the notion that even very unpopular views may be expressed without fear of reprisal or repression. This chapter looks at some of the findings and controversies in political psychology regarding the political attitudes of ordinary American citizens. The Political Being in this chapter is an average citizen. We focus primarily upon the attitudes and cognition component of their mind and the us part of the political environment: We are looking at the Political Being in the context of politics at home in the United States (and Britain).
We begin with some concepts, then turn to the classic study by the Michigan school of thought on the nature of American political attitudes and sophistication. We then consider some critics of the Michigan school's perspective. From that topic, we turn to studies of how people process information during campaigns and how their feelings affect for whom they decide to vote. We then discuss the media in American politics, political socialization in the United States, and political tolerance in America, all of which are important topics in studies of public opinion. After that we compare American political attitudes with those in Great Britain. To begin, let us review some of the central concepts analysts use to study public opinion.
In chapter 3, the term beliefs was defined as associations people create between an object and its attributes (Eagly & Chaiken, 1998). Another useful definition of beliefs is “cognitive components that make up our understanding of the way things are” (Glynn, Herbst, O'Keefe, Shapiro, 1999, p. 104). When beliefs are clustered together, we call it a belief system. Most Americans, for example, have a belief system about democracy that includes such beliefs as “Free speech is a necessity, ” “The people have a right to decide who holds political power, ” and “All citizens should have the right to vote. ”
Values are closely related, but have an ideal component. Beliefs reflect what we think is true; values reflect what we wish to see come about, even if it is not currently true. Rokeach (1973)