Political Science: The State of the Discipline II

By Ada W. Finifter | Go to book overview

A Last Word

The idea of the new in science is, or ought to be, nuanced. Research in public opinion over the last decade or so has exhibited a fresh and distinctive flavor, and I have tried to convey this. But viewed over a longer perspective, what is just as evident is the continuing exploration of the implications for democratic politics of the constraints on information and information processing of mass publics. From this angle, what is most original and telling in research in public opinion has manifestly come about by responding to what was most original and telling in the work of the classic analysts of public opinion -- Converse, McClosky, Stouffer, and Verba, among them.


For facilities at which to work, and colleagues with which to work, I want to thank the Survey Research Center and the Institute of Personality and Social Research, both of the University of California at work. Colleagues too numerous to mention have been generous with suggestions and criticism. I am, however, chiefly in debt to Anthony Tyler, a colleague of mine at the Institute of Personality and Social Research: his assistance was indispensable.

Among the several excellent research summaries, Abramson ( 1983) stands out for the scope of his treatment -- covering party loyalties, feelings of political efficacy, political trust, and political tolerance -- and the detail of his independent analysis.
For the record, the feature of the likability heuristic that operates to yield accurate attributions is the weighting of issue attributions by the difference in people's feelings toward polar groups like liberals and conservatives. For the hook-up between individual organization and political organization, see the argument on bipolarity below.
I am deviating, it should be noted, from what has been the dominant view, both in the study of public opinion and psychology, which has stressed how the perceptual world is a buzzing, booming Jamesian chaos. It seems to me utterly implausible to concede (as I do) that the average citizen pays little attention to politics and then go on to argue that he or she is nonetheless miraculously adept at figuring out effective simplifications. Following Gibson ( 1979), I am inclined to think that people can effectively pick up information from their environment insofar as that environment is organized.
Converse ( 1964), who first raised the innocence of ideology thesis, put the issue in more nuanced terms, calling attention to the marked variations in informational level and organizational patterns within mass publics.
The research of Philip Tetlock has had a major impact on the terms in which this section is put, even when the specific assertions depart at points from his. See Tetlock, 1986a and 1986b.
This analytic move, aggregating by states, is ingenious on Gibson's part, though it carries with it heavy risks, not least because the original samples were not designed with this maneuver in mind.
A particularly strategic contribution, comparing the stability of so-called symbolic and non-symbolic attitudes, has been made by Krosnick ( 1990a), showing that non-symbolic attitudes are as stable as symbolic ones once differences in reliability of measurement are taken into account. It should also be remarked that the proponents of the symbolic politics model are committed to a strong version of a persistence model, asserting that people hold central political orientations (such as party identification and ideology) without updating them to any significant degree.
Feldman and Zaller ( 1992), it should be remarked, take the same variability in response reviewed in Zaller and Feldman ( 1992) but construe it as evidence not of a lack of crystallized attitudes but rather as evidence of complexity in political reasoning. It will be interesting to see how the interpretations are reconciled in the course of this research program.
No criticism is intended here of rational choice: merely a contention that its value for the study of mass public opinion remains largely a matter of asseveration, not demonstration. For a major step forward in interweaving rational and causal accounts at the individual level, see Brady and Ansolabehere, 1989.


Abramson, Paul R. 1983. Political Attitudes in America. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman.

Achen, Christopher H. 1975. "Mass Political Attitudes and the Survey Response." American Political Science Review 69:1218-1231.

Adler, Jane W., Deborah R. Hensler, and Charles E. Nelson. 1983. Simple Justice: How Litigants Fare in the Pittsburgh Court Arbitration Program. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.

Adorno, Theodor W., Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel J. Levinson, and R. Nevitt Sanford. 1950. The Authoritarian Personality. New York: Harper.

Altemeyer, Bob. 1988. Enemies of Freedom: Understanding Right-wing Authoritarianism. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Apostle, Richard A., Charles Y. Glock, Thomas Piazza, and Marijean Suelze . 1983. The Anatomy of Racial Attitudes. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Barker, Edwin N. 1963. "Authoritarianism of the Political Right, Center, and Left." Journal of Social Issues 1( 2): 63-74.

Barnum, David G., and John L. Sullivan. 1989. "Attitudinal Tolerance and Political Freedom in Britain." British Journal of Political Science 19:136-146.

Bassili, John N., and Joseph F. Fletcher. 1991. "Response-time Measurement in Survey Research: A Method for CATI and a New Look at Nonattitudes." Public Opinion Quarterly 55:329-344.

Bennett, Earl Stephen. 1988. "'Know-nothings' Revisited: The Meaning of Political Ignorance Today." Social Science Quarterly 69:476-490.

Bennett, Earl Stephen. 1992. "Changing Levels of Political Information in 1988 and 1990." Unpublished manuscript.

Bennett, Earl Stephen, Robert Oldendick, Alfred J. Tuchfarber, and George F. Bishop. 1979. "Education and Mass Belief Systems: An Extension and Some New Questions." Political Behavior 1:53-72.

Berelson, Bernard R., Paul F. Lazarsfeld, and William N. McPhee. 1954. Voting: A Study of Opinion Formation in a Presidential Campaign. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Berlin, Isaiah. 1969. Four Essays on Liberty. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bobo, Lawrence. 1983. "Whites' Opposition to Busing: Symbolic Racism or Realistic Group Conflict?" Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 45:1196-1210.

Bobo, Lawrence, and Frederick Licari. 1989. "Education and Political Tolerance: Testing the Effects of Cognitive Sophistication and Target Group Affect." Public Opinion Quarterly 53:285- 308.


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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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