The "end of ideology" was declared by social scientists in the aftermath of World
War II. They argued that (a) ordinary citizens' political attitudes lack the kind
of stability, consistency, and constraint that ideology requires; (b) ideological
constructs such as liberalism and conservatism lack motivational potency and behavioral
significance; (c) there are no major differences in content (or substance) between
liberal and conservative points of view; and (d) there are few important differences
in psychological processes (or styles) that underlie liberal versus conservative orientations.
The end-of-ideologists were so influential that researchers ignored the topic of ideology
for many years. However, current political realities, recent data from the American
National Election Studies, and results from an emerging psychological paradigm provide
strong grounds for returning to the study of ideology. Studies reveal that there are
indeed meaningful political and psychological differences that covary with ideological
self-placement. Situational variables--including system threat and mortality salience--and
dispositional variables--including openness and conscientiousness--affect the degree
to which an individual is drawn to liberal versus conservative leaders, parties, and
opinions. A psychological analysis is also useful for understanding the political
divide between "red states" and "blue states."
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