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Chapter 4: American Political Culture

Political Culture A political culture is a distinctive pattern of thinking on political and economic matters Americans are somewhat unique in that they often judge political and economic systems differently, ex. Value political equality but not economic equality, whereas other peoples often value both political and economic equality

The Political System Important aspects of the American view of the political system: Liberty; believe in freedom to do whatever as long as no one else is hurt Equality; believe that everybody should have equal chance to vote and to participate in politics Democracy; believe that public officials should answer to the people Civic duty; believe people should support and take part in community affairs Individual responsibility; believe that individuals should be responsible for their own actions and wellbeing The vast majority believe that citizens should have equal chances at influencing policy and holding office, and oppose the granting of titles A smaller majority supports allowing citizens to vote regardless of literacy or level of informedness Data on political culture may be gathered through surveys and analysis of behavior Sometimes, behavior does not reflect values because of self-interest and social circumstances, ex. White denial of equality of opportunity to Blacks; often, however, people become aware of the disparity and the behavior slowly changes Though there is much agreement on fundamental principles, there is still much political conflict because of disagreement on specifics or because sometimes the fundamental principles run counter to each other (ex. Curtailing personal liberty to allow for equality of opportunity) The terms Americanism and American way of life are unique in that there are few other countries that have corresponding terms; evidences that Americans feel bound by common values The Economic System Support economic liberty and a free-enterprise system, through also support some limits on freedom in the form of government regulation to prevent monopolies and abuses of power Believe in equality of opportunity but not equality of results; often support education and training programs for the disadvantaged, but do not support preferential treatment (ex. Hiring quotas) Liberals tend more to support preferential treatment because believe that the disadvantaged are as such because of the economic system, not individual fault; still, oppose upper limit on income and support pay based on ability Most Americans would help those truly in need (ex. Elderly and disabled) but not those deemed able to take care of themselves (ex. People on welfare) Widely shared is a commitment to economic individualism and personal responsibility; some believe this is an excuse for racism, while others believe it is a genuine believe in self-reliance

Recently, Americans are more likely to support government regulation of business and assistance to the needy Comparing America with Other Nations American beliefs about the political system, the economic system, and religion are rather different from other nations'

The Political System Sweden has a similar government, but Swedes usually believe that leaders and experts, should decide what's best, not what the people want, and they tend to observe their obligations instead of asserting their rights, and favor harmony over contention Upper-class Japanese valued good relations with colleagues, group decision-making, preservation of social harmony, respect for hierarchy, sensitivity to personal needs of others, avoiding conflict, and making decisions through discussion, not application of rules A 1960 study found that Americans and, to a lesser extent, Britons believed more in civic duty (one's obligation to participate in civic and political activities) and civic competence (one's ability to influence policies) than Germans, Italians, or Mexicans A 1995 study found that Americans voted less than Austrians, the Dutch, West Germans, and UKers, but that they participated far more in other methods of political participation A 1990s study found that Americans were fifth out of sixteen in trust for public institutions and first in trust for private institutions Americans were the more likely to identify as patriotic than Frenchmen or Germans Though Americans acknowledge their country's faults, they usually believe that it is policies, not the system of government, that must change The Economic System Swedish liberal and union leaders were much more likely to support equal pay for workers and an upper limit on income that American ones, and supported a much lower ratio of pay between an executive and a menial worker Americans are more likely to value freedom over equality and to believe that hard work is rewarded, and less likely to support a government guarantee of a basic standard of living America has always been one of the most religions countries in the world Evidence also indicates that Americans have recently been becoming more religious Many Americans are religious for civic as well as spiritual reasons; religious organizations are major doers of volunteer work, charity, and social services

The Civic Role of Religion

Religion and Politics Religion has long had a significant influence on American politics, on both liberal and conservative sides, ex. The First Great Awakening, the break with England (God-given rights), slavery, temperance, civil rights movement (Black religious leaders) In most other democracies, presidential candidates rarely mention religion, but ex. In 2000 both Bush and Gore gave speeches supporting religion and the charitable activities of religious organizations, responding to American opinion Another example of religious influence on politics is the 2002 attempt to ban the Pledge of Allegiance for containing under God, which received bipartisan opposition The Sources of Revolutionary:

Political Culture

The nature of the American Revolution, fought mainly for liberty, caused American political culture to be contentious and preoccupied with asserting and maintaining rights Americans have a distrust of authority because of the experience with British rule and because many colonists believed that people were fundamentally bad At the same time though, people came to accept orderly political change after the initially tumultuous relationship between the Federalist and Democratic-Republican Parties in the election of 1800 Religious: The Constitution's dividing of political power and the democratic, participatory nature of Protestant churches (Protestantism was the dominant religious tradition) contributed to widespread participation in politics American religious diversity meant that no one religious or political orthodoxy could emerge There has long been deep division between the Puritan tradition, which emphasized faith and hard work, and the Catholic Church, which emphasized the sacraments and priestly authority, with regards to regulation of manners and morals, ex. Prohibition The Protestant ethic (AKA the work ethic) encouraged work, saving money, obeying laws, and doing good works Social: Culture, including political culture, is passed on to new generations mainly through family American children have greater freedom and greater equality among family members than European children do, instilling a belief that everyone's rights deserve to be protected and that multiple interests must be considered when making decisions Americans are highly class conscious, or think of themselves as a worker or manager whose interests are opposed; most Americans consider themselves middle class Believe that those who work hard have an opportunity for success, partially explaining why America lacks a significant Socialist party and why it is sometimes slow to adopt welfare programs The Culture War is a war on values, ex. Conflicts over abortion, gay rights, drug use, school prayer, and pornography This war is different from other political disputes in that money is not at stake, compromise is near impossible, and it is driven by deep differences in people's beliefs about morality There are two main sides: the orthodox, who believe that morality is at least as important as self-expression and that it is clearly and unchangingly derived from God or nature, and the progressive, who believe that personal freedom is as least as important than morality and that moral rules should be re-evaluated in a changing modern context The orthodox are often dismissed as a fanatical Religious Right, while the progressive often as immoral, anti-Christian radicals Though such conflicts have always been present, they take on new significance today because of an increase in people who consider themselves progressive and because the rise of media allows the cultural war to be waged on a larger scale

The Culture War

Mistrust of Government

Since the late 1950s, there has been a steady decline in American trust in government officials; recall the unpopular war in Vietnam, Nixon and Watergate, and Clinton's scandals and impeachment (though he was not convicted) Or maybe the 1950s were a time of extremely high confidence in government; after all, that was right after victory in WWII, recovery from the Depression, the development of the A-bomb, strong currency, and dominating international trade Most importantly, people expected little from the federal government in ex. Civil rights, highway safety, the environment, etc. But in the 1960s and 70s, people began expecting Washington to solve difficult problems like domestic turmoil, urban riots, a civil rights revolution, the war in Vietnam, economic inflation, and a new environmentalism Patriotism also got pushed into the background, that is until 9/11 happened; then, patriotism spiked and so did trust in government officials, though the support was not constant Still, most Americans remain confident in the political system and in each other Political efficacy is the belief that people can understand and influence politics Since the mid-1960s, the sense of external efficacy (the ability of the system to respond to the citizenry) has dropped while the sense of internal efficacy (the ability to understand and participate in politics) has not changed much (most people still find it overcomplicated) This increasing feeling that the government is unresponsive is not due to any particular events, but rather to the view that the government has become too big and pervasive to be sensitive to what the people want Still, polls show that Americans' sense of efficacy is higher than that of Europeans Evidence suggests that the less voters trust political institutions and leaders, the more likely it is that nonincumbent major party and third-party candidates will do better However, no link has been found between voter turnout and decreased trust and belief in responsiveness In order for democratic politics to function, citizens must be tolerant of others' opinions and actions (ex. Not shouting down unpopular speakers, not supporting censorship, losing parties allowing winning parties to take office, allowing peaceful demonstrations) The vast majority of Americans believe in freedom of speech, majority rule, and the right to circulate petitionsin an abstract sense; but many are less tolerant of groups they don't like Generally, Americans have become more tolerant As of 1998, most Americans believe that moral decline is the cause of civic problems, that the country is becoming too tolerant of behaviors harmful to society, and that common moral standards are more important than individual rights Though most Americans would be willing to withhold liberties from some groups or causes, these groups still survive because most people do not take the trouble or have the chance to deny them those liberties, and because enough people rarely agree on the same group to deny the rights to, and because the courts stand in the way

Political Efficacy

Political Tolerance