Political Science: The State of the Discipline II

By Ada W. Finifter | Go to book overview

and/or party cues toward a more individualized and inwardly oriented style of political choice. Instead of depending upon party elites and reference groups, more citizens now attempt to deal with the complexities of politics and make their own political decisions. What is developing is an eclectic and egocentric pattern of political decision making. Rather than socially structured and relatively homogeneous personal networks, contemporary publics are more likely to base their electoral decisions on policy preferences, performance judgments, or candidate images.

The relationship between the individual and the media both contributes to these trends and reinforces them ( Semetko et al. 1991; Miller 1990). The contemporary media provide voters with a greater variety of information sources, and potentially a more critical perspective of established political actors such as parties, labor unions, and industries. Access to a diverse media environment enables the public to become active selectors of information rather than passive consumers of political cues provided by others. In addition, the ability to see candidates and parliamentary leaders up close and personal on television has caused more attention to be paid to the personal attributes of politicians, such as competence and integrity. The expansion of the 1992 American presidential campaign into new media forums illustrates this point, and similar developments can be observed in other Western democracies, albeit in more modest form, as new communications technologies change the patterns of information flow.

The individualization of politics also displays itself in the increasing heterogeneity of the public's issue interests. Issues of environmentalism, women's rights, and lifestyles choices have been added to the already full agenda of advanced industrial democracies. In addition, schema theory argues that citizens are becoming fragmented into a variety of distinct issue publics (also see RePass 1971; Budge and Farlie 1983; Franklin 1992). Rather than politics being structured by a group benefits framework, which often reflected socially derived cues, citizens now tend to focus on specific issues of immediate or personal importance.

These developments have the potential to either improve or weaken the "quality" of the democratic process and the representation of the public's political interests. The nature of contemporary political beliefs means that public opinion is simultaneously becoming more fluid and less predictable. This uncertainty forces parties and candidates to become more sensitive to public opinion, at least the opinions of those who vote. Motivated issue voters are more likely to at least have their voices heard, even if they are not accepted. Furthermore, the ability of politicians to have unmediated communications with voters can strengthen the link between politicians and the people. To some extent, the individualization of electoral choice revives earlier images of the informed independent voter that we once found in classic democratic theory.

At the same time, there is a potential dark side to these new forces in electoral politics. The rise of single-issue politics handicaps a society's attempts to deal with political issues that transcend specific interests, such as the U.S. budget deficit. A focus on issue publics also leaves the electorally inactive disenfranchised. Too great an interest in a single issue, or too much emphasis on recent performance, can produce a narrow definition of rationality that is as harmful to democracy as "frozen" social cleavages. In addition, direct ummediated contact between politicians and citizens opens the potential for demagoguery and political extremism. Both extreme right-wing and left-wing political movements probably benefit from this new political environment, at least in the short term.

The early empiricists called for a mix of stability and change in mass politics as an essential feature of democracy ( Almond and Verba 1963; Berelson et al. 1954). Today, the balance of this mix has changed significantly for most contemporary democracies. It is unlikely that we will ever see the old electoral style of the past repeated, for the nature of electoral politics has permanently changed.


We would like to thank Robert Huckfeldt, Robert Luskin, and several of the anonymous reviewers for their advice and comments on this chapter; we also want to thank James Hankin for his assistance in preparing this chapter.

In order to understand the dynamics of electoral choice, the interested reader should also consult the separate chapters on public opinion ( Paul Sniderman) and political communication ( Doris Graber) in this volume.
Faced with this empirical evidence, some scholars attempted to recast democratic theory to make a virtue of the public's apparently limited abilities. Berelson and his colleagues ( 1954, 315), for instance, maintained that the smooth functioning of democratic process required that most citizens remain politically aloof, providing some latitude for elites to act and avoiding excessive political conflict. Similarly, Almond and Verba ( 1963) cautioned that a democratic political culture required a mix of attentive and inattentive citizens that would enable the system to avoid the hyper-politicization and polarization that characterized unstable democracies, such as the Weimar Republic. For a critique of this argument see Barber ( 1984) and Dalton ( 1988).
Smith's analyses emphasize how much people say about politics, using the number of responses to the open-ended likes/dislikes question, rather than content of these responses. By substituting quantity for the quality of response, Smith ignores what sophistication is supposed to measure (see Luskin 1987).
For example, the methodological studies of the 1970s showed that the seven-point scales, now the preferred methdology of the


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Political Science: The State of the Discipline II
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Table of Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Theory and Method 1
  • 1: Texts and Canons: The Status of the "Great Books" in Political Theory 3
  • Conclusion 21
  • Notes 22
  • Bibliography 23
  • 2: Political Theory in the 1980s: Perplexity Amidst Diversity 27
  • Notes 43
  • Bibliography 43
  • Additional Bibliography 46
  • 3: Feminist Challenges to Political Science 55
  • Notes 72
  • Bibliography 73
  • 4: Formal Rational Choice Theory: A Cumulative Science of Politics 77
  • Concluding Comments 97
  • Notes 98
  • Bibliography 101
  • 5: The Comparative Method 105
  • Conclusion 116
  • Notes 117
  • Bibliography 117
  • 6: The State of Quantitative Political Methodology 121
  • Conclusion 148
  • Notes 148
  • Bibliography 150
  • Political Processes and Individual Political Behavior 161
  • 7: Comparative Political Parties: Research and Theory 163
  • Conclusion 183
  • Notes 184
  • Bibliography 185
  • 8: The Not So Simple Act of Voting 193
  • Notes 213
  • Bibliography 214
  • 9: The New Look in Public Opinion Research 219
  • Notes 240
  • Bibliography 240
  • 10: Expanding Disciplinary Boundaries 247
  • Conclusion 269
  • Notes 271
  • Bibliography 271
  • 11: Citizens, Contexts, and Politics 281
  • Conclusion: Putting the Puzzle Back Together 299
  • Bibliography 300
  • 12: Political Communication 305
  • Conclusions 323
  • Bibliography 324
  • Political Institutions of the State 333
  • 13: Legislatures: Individual Purpose and Institutional Performance 335
  • Conclusions: Behavior, Institutions, and Theory 354
  • Notes 357
  • Bibliography 357
  • 14: Public Law and Judicial Politics 365
  • 15: Political Executives and Their Officials 383
  • Conclusion 402
  • Bibliography 403
  • 16: Public Administration: The State of the Field 407
  • Notes 423
  • Bibliography 424
  • Nations and Their Relationships 429
  • 17: Comparative Politics 431
  • Conclusion 443
  • Notes 444
  • Bibliography 446
  • 18: Global Political Economy 451
  • Conclusion 474
  • Notes 476
  • Bibliography 477
  • Conclusions 483
  • Conclusions 503
  • Notes 504
  • Bibliography 505
  • Appendix 511
  • Contributors 513
  • Index of Cited Authors 517


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