Institutional Organization of Choice
Spaces: A Political Conception
of Political Psychology
PAUL M. SNIDERMAN
It is uncontroversial that a psychologically oriented study of politics must be politically grounded. Yet it is undeniably controversial whether a politically oriented study of politics can be psychologically grounded. To many students of politics, explanations of political choices that follow from expressly psychological premises, if not strictly a category error, seem reductionist, tone-deaf to what makes politics a distinctive domain of behavior.
Part of the problem is obvious. It is hard to take seriously the claim that psychology should be treated as a foundational science for the study of human behavior when its leading ideas and vocabulary exhibit a rapid fashion cycle. But the problem goes deeper. Real politics involves commitment, values, judgment. Politics is an area of life that can evoke people's deepest emotions: allegiances, identification, the application of their principles to controversial choices, their judgment of the intentions and qualities of allies and opponents—their honesty, trustworthiness, competence, aggressiveness and the like. It would be odd indeed if, to make use of an older language, the study of the passions and the interests had nothing to learn from psychological inquiry.
Accordingly, our objective is constructive, not critical. We begin by outlining, briefly, the principal opposing positions— internalist and externalist,