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Knowing Left from Right: Ideological Thinking in the 2002 and 2006 Brazilian Presidential Elections
Unformatted Document Text:  The Meaning of Ideology How do people organize their attitudes towards the many different political objects they encounter? The most common answer posits that for at least some citizens and elites these different objects factor together to form a single left-right dimension. This spectrum is characterized by both “constraint” and “contrast” . A person’s attitude regarding one object comprising this spectrum should be strongly associated with the attitude toward any other object, and leftism and rightism should be perfectly negatively correlated . Here I use the term ideology to refer specifically to such a spectrum. 1 There is no reason that the left-right spectrum should be the only way to organize attitudes. A number of scholars have responded to the classic work of Converse by pointing out that attitudes might be organized not along a single, all-encompassing dimension but rather along multiple, less global ones such as values or group identifications . Schemes for organizing attitudes might also be individually idiosyncratic . Compared to these alternatives, however, the left-right spectrum facilitates both the practice and study of politics. When individuals all conceptualize politics along the same spectrum, they readily organize themselves into parties. Moreover, scholars can compare the distribution of attitudes in one population to those in another. However, as researchers have found in attempting to compare ideologies of elites across different US institutions , the translation of ideology from one setting to another is more difficult than it seems. Just as it is not immediately apparent whether “far right” means the same thing in the Senate as in the Supreme Court, it is not clear whether it means the same thing to Brazilian and US citizens. 1 I generally avoid the terms “liberalism” and “conservatism” because they do not map neatly onto the categories of left and right outside the US. For further review of the concept of ideology, see Gerring and Knight . 3

Authors: Smith, Amy.
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The Meaning of Ideology
How do people organize their attitudes towards the many different political objects they
encounter? The most common answer posits that for at least some citizens and elites these
different objects factor together to form a single left-right dimension. This spectrum is
characterized by both “constraint” and “contrast” . A person’s attitude regarding one object
comprising this spectrum should be strongly associated with the attitude toward any other object,
and leftism and rightism should be perfectly negatively correlated . Here I use the term ideology
to refer specifically to such a spectrum.
There is no reason that the left-right spectrum should be the only way to organize
attitudes. A number of scholars have responded to the classic work of Converse by pointing out
that attitudes might be organized not along a single, all-encompassing dimension but rather along
multiple, less global ones such as values or group identifications . Schemes for organizing
attitudes might also be individually idiosyncratic . Compared to these alternatives, however, the
left-right spectrum facilitates both the practice and study of politics. When individuals all
conceptualize politics along the same spectrum, they readily organize themselves into parties.
Moreover, scholars can compare the distribution of attitudes in one population to those in
another. However, as researchers have found in attempting to compare ideologies of elites
across different US institutions , the translation of ideology from one setting to another is more
difficult than it seems. Just as it is not immediately apparent whether “far right” means the same
thing in the Senate as in the Supreme Court, it is not clear whether it means the same thing to
Brazilian and US citizens.
1
I generally avoid the terms “liberalism” and “conservatism” because they do not map neatly onto the categories of
left and right outside the US. For further review of the concept of ideology, see Gerring and Knight .
3


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