Political ideology is a coherent system of beliefs and values that defines the common commitments of a particular government (or aspiring government) and it is conventional wisdom in multi-party democracies, that the parties size and influence will reflect the spectrum of public opinion sorted and aggregated by the most prominent ideologies. Government's legitimacy depends on its ongoing commitment to its ideological base. The political ideology of a representative, elected by voters of simpatico beliefs and values, purports to explain what government should do, and why, and what yardstick is used to measure the success of its time in power.
Broadly speaking, five ideologies have competed for dominance in the developed nation-states, since industrialization in the 18th-century. Each country has its own idiosyncracies but as variations on the five ideological colors:
- Classical conservatism
- Classical liberalism
In proportional representation voting systems, the country's parliament or congress will be a blend of these ideologies. Different aspects rising to prominence, others falling into the background, as circumstances progress year on year. In "first past the post" or winner-takes-all voting systems, the country's representatives tend to calcify into duopolies and government swings from one ideological color to the next depending which party is on top. Of these three, only classical liberalism has played a dominant role in American political culture and best explains the nature of our formal institutions of government.
Classical conservatism has been the default political ideology over the span of human history, though it has taken many forms including aristocracy, monarchy, military dictatorships, and theocracies. It finds the liberal idea that "all men are created equal" as patently ridiculous and contrary to the evidence. There is a natural social order that all people belong to and that societies should not attempt to disrupt. There are the few who are fit to govern and the many who are not. Classical conservatism is thus unapologetically elitist. To challenge the established social and political order is to risk catastrophe as seen in the decades of chaos and bloodshed that the French Revolution inaugurated. Its view of society is organic. A useful metaphor is that of the human body with various segments of society fulfilling different but important roles—the King the head, the Church the heart/chest, knights the stomach and peasants the feet.
Although classical conservatism is hostile to those who seek to leave their rightful place in society, it does hold that the state has a responsibility to take care of its weakest members. In feudal times this principle was captured by the idea of noblesse oblige. Because society is an organic whole, classical conservatism sees religion and government as inseparable. Religion should be uniform to prevent social fragmentation and the state and church should reinforce each other. As for the economy, classical conservatism's privileging of societal interests over individual ambitions lends itself to a paternalistic or statist orientation with regard to economic management.
While modern democracies generally reject the idea of hereditary privilege and embrace the legal and political equality of their citizens, the residual impact of classical conservatism is still evident in most institutions and culture. Europe's feudal and aristocratic heritage is apparent in the persistence of constitutional monarchies found in Great Britain, Spain and Scandinavian countries where hereditary kings and queens play a largely symbolic role, supported by taxpayer's money. Britain still boasts a much-diminished but very visible House of Lords, traditionally the legislative chamber of those with land and titles. In contrast with the United States, several countries still have a state church (the Church of England, the Church of Denmark) while others permit greater display of religious symbols in schools and public places such as crucifixes on classroom walls in traditionally Catholic Bavaria. In many countries, such as Italy and Germany, Christian Democratic parties rooted in older Catholic social movements play a prominent role in electoral politics.
Even in countries such as France and India, both heavily influenced by Socialist ideology, social distinctions rooted in feudal pasts continue to mark social life. In France, those with aristocratic names enjoy an advantage in certain social, professional, and political circles, while in India the harsh caste system, though officially abolished, throws up formidable barriers to social and political upward mobility. Other residual traces of classical conservatism, however, are more benign. Its emphasis on the social obligations of those who rule to the less fortunate means that even conservative parties in most countries are considerably more likely to support many features of the welfare state than their conservative counterparts in the American Republican Party or even many American Democrats. Classical conservatism's legacy and socialism thus mutually reinforce the societal consensus on the welfare state in countries where their influence is strong.
ECONOMICS AND CULTURE ALIGNMENT
Political elites and parties in many nations organize their cultural and economic attitudes along the right–left dimension. If citizens organize their attitudes differently, then this mismatch has potential implications for our understanding of the psychological origins of political ideology 71 as well as the quality of democratic representation. The present research provided a large-scale cross-national test of the typical relationship between cultural and economic attitudes within mass publics around the world. Not only do we fail to find a typically positive relationship between right-wing (vs. left-wing) cultural and economic attitudes; we also find that a small negative relationship between these dimensions is more common. Such protection–freedom attitude organization was more common than right–left attitude organization within post-communist, traditional and low-development nations, as well as among low political engagement individuals.
Meanwhile, right–left attitude organization outweighed protection–freedom attitude organization primarily among highly politically engaged individuals from relatively progressive and developed (that is, modernized) nations. Finally, our findings suggest that protection–freedom attitude organization might result in part from dispositional needs for security and certainty as well as social class exerting opposite (in terms of the right–left dimension) influences across the cultural and economic domains. These findings are consistent with the view that discursive sources of right–left attitude organization compete with dispositional and demographic sources of protection–freedom attitude organization, yielding a net relationship between cultural and economic attitudes that is often small and that varies in sign across nations.
One implication of these findings concerns the psychological origins of right–left ideology. The present findings bolster the case for emphasizing differential origins of right-wing (vs. left-wing) attitudes across different substantive domains, and variability in attitude structure and origins across contexts and levels of exposure to political discourse. This is consistent with evidence that characteristics commonly assumed to underlie a general conservative ideology – such as needs for security and certainty, authoritarian disposition and disgust sensitivity – often do not coincide with right-wing economic attitudes. 75 Thus these results raise further questions about the norm of focusing on unidimensional ideology as a correlate of basic psychological characteristics and states.
A second potential implication of these findings concerns democratic representation. As scholars have noted, a mismatch between elite and mass attitude structuring may imply poor representation. With respect to this matter, Lefkofridi et al. and Van der Brug and van Spanje have noted the prominence of ‘left authoritarians’ – who are socially conservative but economically left-wing – within Western European electorates. They have also noted, however, that Western European parties have tended to combine right-wing economic views with traditional cultural views, and left-wing economic views with progressive cultural views. Thus, ‘compared to other simple packages of views, left-authoritarian attitudes are consistently and strikingly unrepresented by any party’. Similarly, Ellis and Stimson highlighted the prevalence of ‘conflicted conservatives’ in the United States, who are economically left-wing but gravitate toward a conservative self-label on the basis of the latter’s cultural connotations. As Ahler and Brookman note, an ideologically mixed bag of attitudes might reflect a personally meaningful pattern of cultural and economic preferences that is not well captured by the right–left dimension. 80 The present findings suggest that this personally meaningful pattern might often involve cultural conservatism and left-leaning economic preferences – an orientation toward cultural and economic protection.
In this regard, the present findings might add useful context for understanding the rise and election of Donald J. Trump in 2016, the rise of extreme-right parties in Europe and the 2016 British referendum vote to exit the European Union. In all cases, the motivation to protect national culture against foreign influence or ethnically dissimilar ‘others’ was an important factor in support. But such cases also seem to involve some degree of motivation for economic protection, even if this is of secondary importance. 84While neither the standard right-wing nor left-wing attitude packages involve a unified culturally and economically protective attitude configuration, extreme right populist and ethnonationalist appeals might resonate with citizens who hold this attitude configuration. Indeed, some extreme right parties in Western Europe appear to have made leftward movements on economic matters to attract left authoritarians who had previously been drawn to social democratic parties. And Donald Trump’s campaign combined an economic posture to the left of the Republican norm (including fervent opposition to international trade agreements and promises of infrastructure spending and non-interference with social security and Medicare) with a theme of nationalism and appeals to racial antipathy.
Thus the present findings highlight the potential political importance of an ‘exclusive solidarity’ or ‘economic chauvinism’, in which an economically interventionist and redistributive government is supported by cultural traditionalists who want benefits channeled exclusively to the ‘real’ members of the nation. In fact, across the culturally conservative attitudes considered in this article, it was opposition to immigration that was most frequently linked to left-wing economics, a finding that held when controlling for basic demographics including income and education. Anti-immigration sentiment is central to (though not singularly responsible for) support for extreme right parties and candidates, and it is linked to attitudes toward ethnic groups and ethnically based notions of nationalism. Thus the present findings are relevant to potential changes in the structure of political coalitions that might benefit extreme right and ethnonationalist parties and candidates.
The present results do not, of course, provide evidence of causal influences, such as influences of development, societal progressivism or political engagement on attitude structuring, or influences of social class and needs for security and certainty on political attitudes. With regard to nation-level relationships, development and culturally progressive values are associated with other cultural, structural and institutional characteristics that could be the driving influence, and if development or cultural progressivism do, themselves, exert a causal impact on attitude organization, it is uncertain why they do so. For instance, the present analyses did not gauge the role of party system characteristics – such as the number of parties, 91 party system polarization or the salience of particular issues within party systems – in mass attitude structuring.
Future research might leverage data from manifesto coding or expert ratings of party positions to more directly examine the potential influence of elite attitude structure on mass attitude structure, although it would seem that this can only be done within democratic countries for which such data exist. It would also be worthwhile to examine how a nation’s degree of ethnic diversity relates to attitude organization, as group identity and conflict can influence one’s perspective on redistributive policy. 94 The present explanation centered on modernization and the rise of lifestyle politics within developed nations should be regarded as a working hypothesis that might guide future research and should be updated appropriately on the basis of new evidence. More compelling, however, is the evidence for the counter-intuitive conclusion that cultural conservatism has more often been associated with left-wing than with right-wing economic attitudes within nations around the world. Within mass publics, the organization of cultural and economic attitudes along the right–left dimension seems to be the exception rather than the rule.