The American Political Landscape

The American Political Landscape

Byron E. Shafer
Richard H. Spady
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    The American Political Landscape
    Book Description:

    Social scientists and campaign strategists approach voting behavior from opposite poles. Reconciling these camps through a merger of statistics and election experience,The American Political Landscapepresents a full-scale analysis of U.S. electoral politics over the last quarter-century. It explains how factors not usually considered hard data, such as personal attitudes and preferences, interact to produce an indisputably solid result: the final tally of votes. While pundits boil down elections to a stark choice between Democrat and Republican, Byron Shafer and Richard Spady explore the further significance of not voting at all. Voters can and do form coalitions around specific issues, so that simple party identification does not determine voter turnout or ballot choices. Deploying a method that maps political attitudes from 1984 to 2008, the authors describe an electorate in flux. As an old order organized around economic values ceded ground to a new one in which cultural values enjoy equal prominence, persisting links between social backgrounds and political values have tended to empty the ideological center while increasing the clout of the ideologically committed.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-72605-5
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xvi)
  4. 1 The Strategic Landscape How to Find It, How to Read It, What It Reveals
    (pp. 1-8)

    To begin at the end: when a fresh methodological approach is applied to the evolution of American politics over the past quarter-century by way of continuing and consistent survey items, it becomes evident that:

    There was an old order to American politics in which the political landscape was organized principally by economic values, though by the time these data tap into this order in the 1980s, cultural values had begun to show substantial nascent influence as well. In that world, there was one political party, the Republicans, that was united by economic conservatism but remained heterogeneous on culture, while there...

  5. 2 Mapping the Political Landscape The Nexus of Demographics and Preferences
    (pp. 9-41)

    Investigating the effects of public opinion on voting behavior involves the difficult problem of describing and measuring political values that are simultaneously generalized and latent. On the one hand, we conceptualize these values as being broad-based in their impact, such that they would affect both specific policy preferences and concrete political behavior. On the other hand, we accept that they are nevertheless not directly observable. The only available strategy is thus to turn to defensible indicators of these generalized but latent variables. In this, we shall take the familiar and conventional view that values are reflected in responses signifying the...

  6. 3 Structure and Substance Demographic Cleavages and the Roots of Political Values
    (pp. 42-70)

    Four great cleavages have traditionally been used to describe the social roots of political divisions: social class, race and ethnicity, religious background, and sex and gender.¹ Not all cleavages have been relevant to politics in all nations, just as individual nations have mixed the number and sequence of relevant cleavages in idiosyncratic ways. This historical pattern does not prove that any given cleavage was inconsequential for the nation in question, only that it was not mobilized into politics at a particular point in time. Sometimes, the historical pattern has direct and obvious extrapolations to current political conflicts. Other times, modern...

  7. 4 Structure and Substance Social Groups and the Incarnation of Political Values
    (pp. 71-99)

    The great social cleavages are recognized as such in part because they have proved capable, over the generations, of shaping the political values of those who can be categorized by them. Any analysis of the roots of public preferences must thus begin with these bedrock divisions. Moreover, social class, race and ethnicity, religious background, and domestic roles work in impressively different ways in shaping political values, so that only an approach that can separate them out can hope to tie public preferences back to social backgrounds, before taking these preferences forward to political behavior.

    On the one hand, then, it...

  8. 5 Mapping the Political Landscape Three Routes across Ideological Terrain
    (pp. 100-126)

    Chapter 2 introduced our method of measuring political values, along with specific measures for public preferences on economic and cultural policy. Chapter 3 then went in search of the contribution of major demographic cleavages—by social class, race and ethnicity, religious background, and domestic roles—to these political values. Chapter 4 shifted the focus to embed these values in social groups rather than demographic categories, thereby attempting to display them as they actually occur in American society. Chapters 6, 7, and 8 will go on to examine relationships among social backgrounds, political values, and the archetypal incarnation of political behavior...

  9. 6 Political Values and Presidential Votes A Benchmark Year
    (pp. 127-184)

    Certain social characteristics are conducive to certain political values, such that different demographic backgrounds beget different policy preferences. That was the message of Chapter 3. Yet while these same characteristics can be used additionally to distinguish social groups, the members of these groups inevitably offer a further mix of demographic characteristics, which simultaneously shape their policy preferences. That was the message of Chapter 4. Moreover, demographic characteristics as embedded in social groups conduce toward varying combinations of economic and cultural values. In so doing, these groups provide a social structure that imparts an impressive stability to these valuational combinations.


  10. 7 The Evolution of the Strategic Landscape 1984–2008
    (pp. 185-244)

    Chapter 6 offered a comprehensive picture—a benchmark—for the relationship among social backgrounds, political values, and voting behavior, both as a national composite and in its group components. Nothing guarantees that this is anything more than a single (if already complex) snapshot of the ideological landscape for electoral politics. Indeed, it surely must be a picture that is shaped by elements—candidates, tactics, and events—that are idiosyncratic to 1984. On the other hand, rooting responses to these elements in relationships that involve long-recognized social characteristics, along with the policy preferences that are regularly tied to them, should put...

  11. 8 Social Groups and Electoral Evolution 1984–2008
    (pp. 245-307)

    Chapter 6 introduced a comprehensive picture of the strategic landscape for electoral politics in the United States, both as a national composite and in its group components, by way of the opening survey in the Pew Values series. Chapter 7 then traced the modern evolution of the composite national picture, with particular attention to the benchmark patterns of 1984 and their most recent incarnation in 2008. Accordingly, the function of Chapter 8, almost inevitably, is to ask about the interaction among social groups, political values, and voting behavior underneath that national picture, as this group story itself evolved.

    One grand...

  12. Conclusion The Landscape of Modern American Politics Ideological Evolution and Strategic Incentives
    (pp. 308-326)

    Partisan patterns on the ideological landscape of American politics changed substantially in the quarter-century between 1984 and 2008. Voting behavior that was principally aligned by economic values at the beginning of this period saw the aligning power of those values increase within society as a whole. Yet the grand change lay not with economics but with culture. Voting behavior came to be powerfully—indeed, equally—aligned by cultural values. In the process, the aligning power of these latter values needed to increase much, much more. It did, to the point where a national picture of economic and cultural values jointly...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 327-334)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 335-338)
  15. Index
    (pp. 339-342)