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Knowing Left from Right: Ideological Thinking in the 2002 and 2006 Brazilian Presidential Elections
Unformatted Document Text:  assess the meaning of leftism using only on ideological self-identifiers. Non-respondents probably differ systematically from people who provide an ideology when asked to do so. The same factors affecting whether a person responds may also predict how people who do respond place themselves on the left-right spectrum. If so, we have a problem of selection bias. The problem goes further, though, since high levels of ideological self-identification may mask lower levels of ideological thinking. Even among respondents who oblige the interviewer by reporting an ideology, for some fraction the understanding of their chosen positions is probably shaky at best. US-based studies argue that “for some people, ideology is everything; for others, [these] ideas are effectively not a component of their political thinking” . Jacoby argues that there is a hierarchy of ideological thinking. About half of US voters locate their own ideology and those of candidates and parties; a lower portion has candidate and party preferences consistent with their reported ideologies; even smaller fractions have issue attitudes consistent with those tendencies. There is little previous work on ideological thinking in Brazil. Carreirão finds that despite high levels of ideological self-identification, fewer than half of all Brazilians locate “correctly” the party of their choice. Moreover, less than a third of respondents give open-ended definitions of left and right that are “minimally acceptable.” Thus challenges to assessing the meaning of leftism extend beyond even selection bias. Among respondents who report an ideology but demonstrate low levels of ideological thinking, we should expect ideological self- reports to have little meaning. What predicts the extent to which a person understands the political world in ideological terms? First, political knowledge and education affect ideological thinking . Carreirão (2002) finds that education has a strong bivariate association with the degree of consistency between 6

Authors: Smith, Amy.
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assess the meaning of leftism using only on ideological self-identifiers. Non-respondents
probably differ systematically from people who provide an ideology when asked to do so. The
same factors affecting whether a person responds may also predict how people who do respond
place themselves on the left-right spectrum. If so, we have a problem of selection bias.
The problem goes further, though, since high levels of ideological self-identification may
mask lower levels of ideological thinking. Even among respondents who oblige the interviewer
by reporting an ideology, for some fraction the understanding of their chosen positions is
probably shaky at best. US-based studies argue that “for some people, ideology is everything;
for others, [these] ideas are effectively not a component of their political thinking” . Jacoby
argues that there is a hierarchy of ideological thinking. About half of US voters locate their own
ideology and those of candidates and parties; a lower portion has candidate and party preferences
consistent with their reported ideologies; even smaller fractions have issue attitudes consistent
with those tendencies.
There is little previous work on ideological thinking in Brazil. Carreirão finds that
despite high levels of ideological self-identification, fewer than half of all Brazilians locate
“correctly” the party of their choice. Moreover, less than a third of respondents give open-ended
definitions of left and right that are “minimally acceptable.” Thus challenges to assessing the
meaning of leftism extend beyond even selection bias. Among respondents who report an
ideology but demonstrate low levels of ideological thinking, we should expect ideological self-
reports to have little meaning.
What predicts the extent to which a person understands the political world in ideological
terms? First, political knowledge and education affect ideological thinking . Carreirão (2002)
finds that education has a strong bivariate association with the degree of consistency between
6


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