“A political ideology is a set of ideas, beliefs, values, and opinions, exhibiting a recurring pattern, that competes deliberately as well as unintentionally over providing plans of action for public policy making, in an attempt to justify, explain, contest, or change the social and political arrangements and processes of a political community” (M. Freeden, 2001). The definition of Political Ideology has been hotly contested over the years- primarily, whether the average individual has enough knowledge of political science and theory to understand that they have a political ideology. The word ideology, therefore, has been simplified to consider the most basic of views an individual has regarding politics, disregarding the particulars behind their overview (Freeden, 2006).
Whether the general public has an ideology has also been debated for years. This is not without its evidence. A new direction for research in political ideology among individuals proposes two things- considering the role of values and principles in determining political attitudes (as opposed to using political ideology) and reworking the current measurements of political ideology among people, taking into account multiple dimensions as opposed to placing individuals on a single, rigid scale. Research shows that individuals are capable of forming political ideologies, just not on the level of complexity as those of political elites (Carmines and D’Amico, 2014).
One of the primary areas of study in political ideology is the regard given to purity and moralistic superiority at different ends of the ideological spectrum. The Moral Foundations Theory by Haidt (2004) states that there are five domains: a) harm versus care, b) fairness versus cheating, c) loyalty versus betrayal, d) authority/respect versus subversion, and e) purity/sanctity versus degradation. Studies show that Conservatives give more importance and moral concern to purity than liberals (Haidt and Graham, 2009), which is especially poignant given how political ideology tends to influence one’s views on sensitive matters such as abortion- the purity value has been shown to be a strong predictor of a person’s opposition of abortion than their political leanings (Zhang and Counts, 2016).
A person’s political ideology influences their beliefs in other domains: studies have shown that Conservatives have a less degree of confidence in science, and as a result, decreased willingness to participate in scientific studies (Gabel et. al, 2018). This has far-reaching consequences: Conservatives are shown to be less likely to be pro-vaccines than Liberals, and not vaccinate their children themselves (Baumgaertner, Carlisle, and Justwan, 2018).
Political ideology also seems to influence a person’s stance on social issues like inequality and discrimination, and their motivation toward acknowledging and acting on social issues. Liberals are more likely than Conservatives to share the accomplishments of Black and Female people, due to a higher motivation among Liberals to improve the social standing of minorities (Kteily et. al, 2018). This was found to be true even if the person themselves belonged to an advantaged group. This shows that political ideology is not to be looked at from merely an academic, puritan perspective but as a series of micro-actions that constantly and consistently influence everyday behavior.
While people may consider themselves to have a political ideology, whether the ideology is consistent is to be contested- would one support the stance they’ve taken even if it works against their favor personally? Liberals are found to be more ideologically consistent than Conservatives, which goes against the “Common-Sense” belief that it is Conservatives who are more consistent (Kesebir et. al, 2013). Applying the Moral Foundations Theory, it is seen that when political issues are expressed using moral foundations, it is possible to shift political attitudes- indicating that ideologies are not unmoving, but amenable to rhetoric and reasoning (Day et. al, 2014). In the Indian context, we see that ideological consistency is lacking- voters are influenced by a myriad of factors such as gender, caste, and even candidate promises that fulfill self-serving purposes (Akhter & Sheikh, 2014). This poses a serious question: does an individual support democracy, or do they support democracy only when it favors their growth and advancement?
In today’s increasingly politically motivated world, it is important to understand the various factors that go into shaping an individual’s political ideology, and the factors or behavioral traits that ensure their ideology stays consistent- even when it goes against their personal interests. With rising cases of discrimination and civil unrest, understanding what motivates an individual to adopt a particular stance can be useful.