When respondents during opinion polling are requested to identify themselves along the liberal-conservative dimension, their answers correspond to their stance on policy matters.
The conservatives are interested in maintaining the existing state of affairs and institutions, they have the desire to maintain status quo. Liberal elites are considered to have flexible moral standards and they are not religious in thought. The opinion of the liberals is reflected in their response regarding contemporary issues like abortion and the rights of gay people.
Conservatism places great importance and attach significance to the past, they like tradition and resist change, to them change is not welcome. Conservatism is a product of Roosevelt’s new deal (Erikson & Tedin, 2011). The main aspects that differentiate liberal and conservative elites are: political philosophies, change, and their traditional connotation.
Concerning political philosophy, the conservatives prefer traditional and relatively slow changes. This is reflected in their opinions on topics like religion, culture and nationalities which are well defined. The liberals consider individual liberty the fundamental principle; also liberals emphasize equality and opportunity.
Liberals value principles like the freedom of expression and the limitation of government role and transparency and accountability are dear to them. Regarding change, conservatives acknowledge change but they believe change is gradual. Liberals on the other hand believe in radical change, they also have the common belief that traditions must be adjusted for the good interest of humanity.
In the American political scene, the republicans are considered to be generally conservative in their ideologies whereas democrats are considered to be liberal. In America, the conservatives are associated with their anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage and legalizing of gun possession stances.
Their stand on national issues is motivated by empirical understanding as opposed to rationality. Liberalism advocates for equality among all men and they value rationality. Liberalists support a level playing field in all matters ranging from wealth to race to religion. It is argued that conservatism emanated due to the excesses of liberalism.
Party Differences: Democratic and republican political parties have different ideologies. The supporters of these political parties have different perspective on hot topics that are subject of public debate. During presidential campaigns presidential candidates of these political parties’ express their stand on public issues. Among the hot topics that elicit debate in America are matters of abortion, foreign policy and creation of employment. The position of these candidates is considered as the opinion of the supporters. Political opinion is a product of partisanship; Americans prefer association with political party and its policies without necessarily having substantial information regarding the political party. Party association gives an individual a sense of political identity.
Liberal and conservative dimension: This is used by majority of the population to derive their political opinion. This is due to the fact that being either a conservative or a liberal makes an individual to take a predetermined position on particular political debate. The political situation in the US have always developed a predetermined position for the conservative and liberals and any individual who traces his opinion along one of the dimensions will have no choice but to respect the stand of their respective ideological dimension.
Personal Ideologies and Individual Perspective: There is a group of people who are independent minded and as such they don’t subscribe to the opinions of other people, neither do they follow their party lines or is their opinion dictated by their ideologies as being either conservative or liberal. They arrive at their opinion based on their personal way of looking at things. This is often demonstrated on the debate concerning social issues like abortion and gay rights (Erikson & Tedin, 2011).
Chapter Four – Macro level Opinion: The Flow of Political Sentiment
Question One: Social welfare concerns the distribution of wealth and the ability of the government to assist the under-privileged persons in the society.
Civil rights on the other hand pertain to the demand for equality of all people before the law. Foreign policy refers to views of the citizens concerning the role of the United States in the international matters. Cultural issues refer to the dissimilarities and variations in the lifestyle or moral values afflicting the society like abortion, religion and capital punishment.
On social welfare, Americans have expressed hostility towards matters regarding welfare. Race forms part of people’s opinion when social welfare is discussed. The white’s opinion on this matter is that the black population is lazy and majorly populates the welfare roles.
The white segment of the population believes that the black population is the beneficiaries of welfare and that the black despite this fact are still opposed to welfare. Majority of the American citizens are not willing to pay more taxes to uplift their welfare and to receive better public service. This response is often captured in survey questions concerning taxing and spending.
Concerning civil rights, there has been changing trends. The whites’ populations have liberal perception regarding the ideals of the civil rights but they demonstrate limited efforts in implementing the ideals. Pertaining to the fair employment practices, it has always been on the rise and by 1992 approximately 96 percent of the Americans had endorsed it.
The failure by the whites to endorse civil rights ideals was evident in 1944 and 1958 when in 1944 a small 45 percent agreed that the Negroes should have equal chance as the whites to secure employment and in 1958 only 38 percent of the whites were willing to vote for a black presidential candidate.
In America, racial discrimination is a universal phenomenon. The government has done little to alleviate this matter. The implementation of the ideals concerning civil rights is conservative in form.
This was evident by the desire of the whites to instill the belief that they have every right to keep the blacks out of their neighborhood which was supported by 87 percent of the white respondents. On of the contemporary civil rights matters is affirmative action. Racial messages are heavily latent among the whites.
On foreign policy, majority of the American people agree that US should avoid any foreign war. There is a group calling itself internationalist who advocates for the American involvement in world affairs.
Their opinion was brought to fore when America was involved in the Second World War. There is also another segment that is opposed to the internationalist perspective, this group is referred to as isolationist and they advocate against the involvement of the Americans in international affairs.
The appreciation of foreign policy as an important instrument of promoting America’s influence abroad is popular among majority of Americans as evidenced by their support for the United Nations. There has been a shifting and often varying public opinion regarding defense spending. Majority of the Americans believe that the defense spending by the government is small and it is underfunded.
Concerning America’s foreign intervention and war, Americans have always paid attention and raised their voices when their state gets involved in a war. There is always a widespread support when the country expresses desire to go to war but public opinion diminishes when the war is protracted.
On social issues, there has been widespread and varying support by the public. This has been evidenced in such issues as debate on marijuana, abortion, gay rights and pornography. Support for gay rights has been gaining public support (Erikson & Tedin, 2011).
There has been debate over the position of America in the international arena. This was sparked by the act of Roosevelt to furnish the Great Britain with military aid.
Isolationists believe that the United States should adhere to its traditional policy of non-alignment or non-involvement in European matters just as it had been during the period of the World War 1. Internationalists believe that the United States should assert its role as a dominant actor in international affairs.
This debate between the internationalists and isolationists has been sparked by various events in the international debate which range from the world wars, the UN, independence of Germany where each side of the debate has adopted extreme approach.
America’s opposition towards European wars was considered an isolationist tactic since it demonstrated that America wished to withdraw its involvement in the international politics especially of the western hemisphere.
The isolationist stance of the Unites States of America was demonstrated when the senate rejected the treaty of Versailles that sought to establish the League of Nations. The setting of high tariffs and duties on all foreign goods was aimed at curtailing the fact that its high wage scale needed protection from cheap foreign labor (Erikson & Tedin, 2011).
The idea that pursuing isolationist alone could jeopardize the interest of USA abroad especially economic interest led to the adoption of internationalist approach.
Internationalist approach began with the Warren Harding’s policy on disarmament and foreign policy which was considered necessary. Consequently, internationalist approach was demonstrated by the signing of the four –power pact and the nine-power pact which permitted status quo in the Western pacific and China.
Majority of the American population support America’s participation and intervention in foreign affairs, they are against the idea that USA should adopt an isolationist stance.
Despite this strong public opinion in favor of USA involvement in foreign matters, majority of them express their dissatisfaction with particular aspects of USA role in international affairs since they consider it destabilizing. Most of the Americans are for the establishment of US military bases in the soil of traditional American allies.
Also regarding foreign policy, majority of the Americans are against the hegemonic role of the US and they have modest concerns for the preservation of the role of the US as the main superpower.
Concerning the United Nations, a significant population of the United States believes that UN plays a very important role in the globe and they strongly support US participation in the United Nations (Erikson & Tedin, 2011). The factors influencing opinion on America’s foreign policy are: the bureaucracy, public opinion, the media, interest groups and political parties. These are the domestic factors.
International factors include power, norms and international l institutions. Bureaucrats are the government officials who are charged with the responsibility of formulating government policy and they can also advocate for an amendment of policies, this is an indication that the bureaucracy has the chance to significantly change the foreign policy of America.
Public opinion: This is a critical source of opinion on foreign policy. Government officers especially the elected derive their mandate form the voters. Public opinion puts pressure on the government if it is dissatisfied with a particular policy and they can express it through demonstrations or petitioning the government. Public opinion is also significant in lending support to the interest groups and other actors in the society when it seeks to influence government opinion.
The media: The media is often considered the link between the public and the government. The media is a fundamental instrument for building support on foreign policy. Media is also important in articulating foreign policy matters and can also set policy agenda.
Interest groups: The influence of interest groups has gained momentum in the recent years. They pay attention to topical issues that are hot and capture the attention of the voters. Since they are in touch with the voters, their affinity to influence voters’ opinion on foreign policies is very high.
Political parties: These are particularly the political parties that are represented in parliament, both the one forming the government and the one in opposition.
Party identification in USA refers to a situation whereby an individual identifies with a political party of his/her choice and it is determined by analyzing an individual’s support for a particular the opinion and policies of a political party.
In the US, individuals identify with one of the two main political parties: the republican and the democratic. In the US, party identification is considered an important aspect of political identity.
Realignment is understood as the change in the voting patterns behavior, it is the switching of voter preference from one party to another. The history of American politics is characterized by strong party system and political realignments on special circumstance. These two factors define the partisan party politics of US.
In the period of New Deal, the realignment resulted in the Democratic Party replacing the dominance of the Republican Party in the American politics. This was evident when the democrats won seven presidential elections out of nine elections (Erikson & Tedin, 2011).
The realignment concerned the new deal on 1930s and it involved a transformation of the new deal from predominantly republican affair to a democrat issue. This transformation was as a result of the great depression in eras of both republican president and a democratic president.
Elections that were held during the great depression period was characterized by shift in the American voting patterns since it created a permanent realignment which led to overwhelming vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt , a democratic candidate. All voters irrespective of race, religion, party affiliation and social status and a coalition of labor unions approved the economic policy of New Deal by Roosevelt and voting him to power for three terms.
The realignments during the 1930 brought a new dimension in the party system and party politics of the USA. This realignment was brought about by the Great Depression and it catalyzed the transformation of the democrats from a minority to a majority political party.
The realignment was dubbed the New Deal Democratic coalition and it encompassed support from all the working class or labor unions and other minority groups to the already existing democratic followers
There were several reasons as to why there were political realignments in the era of New deal. This was due to the shifts in the distribution of the popular vote which was a response to the crisis that was witnessed during the 1930s which had attracted widespread tension and dissatisfaction.
It had little to do with dissatisfaction of the party in government by the electorate. The main purpose was to give any party whether opposing or in government an effective capacity and an opportunity to implementing policies that were considered to be perfect response to crisis.
The end result of the realignments was to be considered a response to crisis and also as a reflection of the dissatisfaction that one party was rejected by the voters, it consequently involved the endorsement and an affirmation of the advantaged political party following the elections.
Therefore, combination of factors prompted the political realignments: they included shifting in voting patterns, the case of need for policy action and the desire by the people to approve the New Deal as stop gap policy actions.
Political and party realignments do not necessary imply that there is a complete and radical shift with the existing tradition of party loyalties but it is only taken to be an emergency or a stop gap measure.
On the composition of the American electorate, the low income and the minority segment of the population are isolated from the voting population.
This is despite their substantial population and as such, the proportion of the population who are registered to vote and those who have not been registered is skewed in form since those voting are the whites, the wealthy and the educated. American electorate is made up of the whites, the blacks, the Hispanic and the Asian (Erikson & Tedin, 2011).
Erikson, R. S & Tedin, K. L. (2011). American Public Opinion (8th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson Longman.