Politics is very important in American society because it is essential to our survival as a democratic country. Politics is a means where citizens can contribute to our nation in a myriad of ways. For example, people can contribute by voting for a candidate or people can write to their elected politicians. Along with politics produces political parties and their different ideologies. People who associate themselves with prevalent political ideologies are called liberals, which generally represent the Democrats, and called conservatives, which generally represent the Republicans. Political parties and their different ideologies are important because it provides difference in opinion, which is essential to democracy. Different, yet equally strong factions provide many advantages in a democracy. First, it prevents one party from dominating against the other. Second, it provides the voters the freedom to choose. Lastly, it provides the citizens an equal opportunity to participate in government and get heard.
Furthermore, based on my literature review I choose several variables could that contribute to the differing of ideologies between different people in the United States. These are: race relations, family income, and gender. All of these variables cause differences in political ideology. In general, I contend that because these people do not share the same histories and experience differences in their daily lives they appeal to the political ideology that treats them well. In this paper, I am going discuss these three variables separately and how these variables affect the political ideology they associate with.
2. Data Set
The data collected for this project came from the General Social Survey, or the GSS. The Roper Center of Public Research at The University of Connecticut (2014) states that the GSS is sponsored by NOAC at The University of Chicago. The National Science Foundation (2007), the GSS conducts face-to-face interviews for 90 minutes, either in English or Spanish. If the respondents were hard to reach telephone interviews were conducted. The respondents are “adults (18+) living in households in the United States… those unable to do the survey in either English or Spanish are out-of-scope” (ropercenter.uconn.edu, 2014). Furthermore, other out of scope people are those who live in institutions, such as mental institutions, and those who died; however, those who are mentally incapable of taking the survey, but live in households are still in scope. Questions may include, “measures of happiness, misanthropy, and life satisfaction; and attitudinal questions on such public issues as abortion, crime and punishment, race relations, gender roles, and spending priorities” (www.nsf.gov, 2007). The answers will be put into a cumulative data file, such as the General Social Survey for Cumulative Data (1972-2012). The GSS previously was “an annual survey, the GSS became biennial in 1994” (ropercenter.uconn.edu, 2014).
Furthermore, The National Science Foundation (2007) states that the GSS is a collection of data measuring changes and constants in attitudes, behaviors and attributes of the adult population collected interviewers employed by National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. According to the General Social Survey Codebook for Cumulative Data (1972-2012), the NOAC’s “national probability sample is a stratified, multistage area probability sample of clusters of households in the continental United States” (General Social Survey, 2013). Furthermore, the multi-stage area probability sample is conducted to the “block or segment level” (General Social Survey, 2013). According to the Codebook (2013), the sample at the block level is quoted based on race, sex, age, and employment status. Russell Schutt (2012) and The National Science Foundation (2007) state that doing the block sample based on quotas are much more accurate in achieving certain characteristics in proportion to the prevalence in one’s population, as well as limit survey costs. However, there may be a systematic bias. A systematic bias is an “overrepresentation or under representation of some population characteristic in a sample due to the method used to select the sample” (Schutt, 2012: 144). In the case of the GSS, some biases may include “ not-at-homes which are not controlled by the quotas” (General Social Survey, 2013), and to avoid such biases, “the interviewers are given instructions to canvass and interview only after 3:00 p.m. on weekdays or during the weekend or holidays” (General Social Survey, 2013). According to the GSS website (2013), provided by NORC, the sample size on average 1,500 people before 1994; however, after the change to biennial in 1994 the sample size has been raised to an average of 3,000. In addition, the General Social Survey for Cumulative Data (1972-2012) data file contains individual response coding for 57,061 respondents and 5,548 variables.
3. Dependent Variables and Level of Measurement
The General Social Survey’s website directed me to the Survey Documentation and Analysis website which had the General Social Survey Cumulative Data (1972-2012) Quick Tables where I can configure my dependent and independent variables to test how the independent variables affect my dependent variable. My dependent variable was ‘political views’; that is whether if one is considered liberal or conservative. Political views are considered nominal level of measurement because “variables whose values have no mathematical interpretation; they vary in kind or quality but not in amount” (Schutt, 2012: 114). Being a conservative is different that being a liberal, but they are no different mathematically. In addition, I am going to use family income, race, and gender as independent variables to test the affect it has on political views.
The same question asked to all three independent variables, ““We hear a lot of talk these days about liberals and conservatives. I’m going to show you a seven-point scale on which the political views that people might hold are arranged from extremely liberal – point 1 – to extremely conservative – point 7. Where would you place yourself on this scale” (sda.berkeley.edu)? Based on the question the response categories, as shown in Tables 1, 2, and 3 were: 1) extremely liberal, 2) liberal, 3) slightly liberal, 4) moderate, 5) slightly conservative, 6) conservative, and 7) extremely conservative. These response categories are considered as ordinal levels of measurement because they have order, or “greater than and less than distinctions” (Schutt, 2012: 116). For example, being extremely liberal, in essence, is more liberal than being just liberal.
4. Literature Review
Gelman, Lane Kenworthy, and Yu- Sung Su (2010) discuss income inequality in the United States and how this affects voting patterns. This article investigates how the two factions attract people of different income brackets because of the different interests they represent. According to Gelman et al (2010: 1204), because the liberals represent labor they tend to attract those in the lower income brackets, whereas, richer people tend to vote for the conservatives because the conservatives tend to make policies to favor the upper class. Similarly, Sares (1999) discusses how many factors, including family income, affects voting patterns. Sares (1999) how the higher the family income, the more conservative they are. Furthermore, Gelman believes, “in national elections, richer individuals are more likely to vote Republican” (Gelman et al., 2010: 1204). Likewise, Sares (1998) also believes that income among college graduates is linked with conservatism; it is also the belief that people who have some degree of higher education earn more than those who do not have higher education. Thus, people with higher income tend to lean toward conservatism.
Furthermore, Fisher investigates how race affected the outcome of the 2008 Presidential elections. Most African Americans sided liberals in the 2008 elections; this could be generalized throughout modern history. This has been proven by the 2008 elections, “Of the 33 states that had Democratic primaries beginning February 5, Obama’s average vote among African-Americans was 83% and among whites it was 40%…” (Fisher, 2011: 503). McIlwain and Caliendo can explain why. According to the article (2013: 1162-63) Romney and Gingrich played racial politics by offending African Americans by calling them lazy and saying they lack worth ethic. For example, McIlwain and Caliendo states that (2013: 1163), Gingrich believed African American boys lack work ethic and stood by his statement when questioned by a journalist. These comments are offensive to African Americans and since both Romney and Gingrich are conservatives, African Americans associate conservatism with racism; thus vote liberally.
Lastly, Whitehead (2000) discusses the gender gap between women and men on political views using capital punishment as an example. According to the article (2000: 3), women side with their liberals including their distaste for capital punishment because of how women are raise in mainstream society, whereas men lean more toward the conservatives and favor capital punishment because of how they were raised. Kendall (2013: 321-323) also agrees that we tend to conform to our gender roles. Individuals have what are known as gender roles. In her book, Kendall states, “gender roles refer to attitudes, behaviors, and activities that are socially defined as appropriate for each sex and are learned through the socialization process” (Kendall, 2013: 321). Women are supposed to act caring, nurturing, and keep peace whereas men are supposed to act tough, rational, and aggressively violent. This, Whitehead (2000) argues it is the determining factor of voting behavior; because women are caring, nurturing, and keeping peace they associate with the Democratic Party; the party that believes in the same values they do. In fact, show that women are “significantly more likely to be on the left in their views on political issues” (Whitehead, 2000: 3). Lastly, Whitehead’s studies (2000: 3) show that more women than men have identified as democrat in every presidential election since 1952, with two exceptions.
5. Independent Variables and Level of Measurement
I chose family income as an independent variable because I wanted to see how it would affect political views. The question asked to the respondents was, “In which of these groups did your total family income, from all sources, fall last year before taxes, that is? Just tell me the letter.” As demonstrated in Table 1, there are many income brackets for which the respondents could answer ranging from having no income to having 70 K or more. Thus, family income is an ordinal level of measurement because based on Schutt’s definition (2012) in the ordinal level you specify only the order of the cases, in “greater than” and “less than” distinctions; they have not specified a specific amount. As demonstrated in Table 1, those who make 0- 20 K make less than those who make 70 K or more. My second variable was race. According to the GSS, the question asked to respondents was “What race do you consider yourself?” As shown in Table 2, race the respondents have to answer: Black, White, or Other. Therefore, race is a nominal level of measurement because based on Schutt’s definition (2012) nominal level because they vary in kind but not in amount. Race is a nominal level of measurement because race is a social construction; for example, African American person is no different from a white person, except for the color of their skin. Lastly, gender was another variable I looked at. According to the GSS, the literal question was “CODE RESPONDENT’S SEX.” Gender is at a nominal level of measurement; males and females are different in appearance but not amount. However, it is also said that gender is a dichotomous level of measurement because you are either a male or female.
Based on my literature review I came up with three hypotheses:
H1: Generally speaking those in the upper income brackets, such as those making 70K or more tend to associate themselves with conservatives, than people with low incomes.
H2: African Americans are more likely than whites or others to consider themselves to be liberal.
H3: I contend that generally speaking males are more conservative than females and that females are more liberal than males.
7. Summary and Conclusion
Voting is very important in contemporary American society; it is key for our democracy to continue, as different factions fight for power so no one group gets too much power. These factions, such as the liberals and the conservatives, are made of leaders who have different ideologies and who will do anything to promote them and make sure others are on board with them. In order to do so, these leaders set up an agenda that will appeal to the most voters and would garner the most public support. This process could be likened to a popularity contest. Through this popularity contest and agenda setting the liberals appeal to low income individuals, minorities and women because they believe the liberals represent their interests; where as the conservatives do not. Likewise, males, whites, and business people side with the conservatives because the conservatives best represent their interests. It is unfortunate, but Jesse Ventra is right, “It seems that elections today are more popularity than they are substantial issues” (brainyquote.com).
Fisher, P. 2011. “The Gapology of the Obama Vote in the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primaries.” Social Science and Public Policy 48(6): 502-509.
Gelman, A., Lane Kenworthy, and Yu- Sung Su. 2010. “Income Inequality and Partisan Voting in the United States*.” Social Science Quarterly 91(5): 1203-1219.
University of Connecticut: Roper Center. 2014. “General Social Survey 1972-2012.” Retrieved November 25, 2014.
Kendall, Diana. 2013. “Sex, Gender, and Sexuality.” Pp. 313- 346 in Sociology in our Times 10th Edition, edited by D. Pharr. Stamford CT: Cengage Learning.
McIlwain, C., and Stephen M. Caliendo.2014. “Mitt Romney’s Racist Appeals: How Race Was Played in the 2012 Presidential Election.” American Behavioral Scientist 58(9): 1157-1168.
Sares, T. 1999. “Sociopolitical Viewpoints as Narrated by Family and Educational Background.” The Journal of Social Psychology 138(5): 637-644.
Whitehead, J., and Michael B. Blankenship. 2000. “The Gender Gap In Capital Punishment Attitudes: An Analysis Of Support And Opposition.” American Journal of Criminal Justice 25(1): 1-13.
Schutt, R. 2012. “Conceptualization and Measurement.” Pp. 95- 133 in Investigating the Social World: The Process and Practice of Research (7th ed.), edited by J. Westby and M. Krattli. Canada: Sage Publications.
Smith, Tom W, Peter Marsden, Michael Hout, and Jibum Kim. General Social Surveys, 1972-2012: Cumulative Codebook / Principal Investigator, Tom W. Smith; Co-Principal Investigator, Peter V. Marsden; Co-Principal Investigator, Michael Hout. — Chicago: National Opinion Research Center, 2013. 3,432p., 28cm. — (National Data Program for the Social Sciences Series, No. 21).
National Science Foundation. 2007. “The General Social Survey (GSS) The Next Decade and Beyond.” Retrieved November 3, 2014.
 Check Index for tables