Political culture/political-psychological model

Political culture is seen as one of the most powerful concepts to emerge in political behaviour research and is central to the study of citizens’ attitudes (Dalton and Dieter, 2009, p. 6). It offers an insightful approach to daily political events by identifying the underlying psychological forces that shape much of civic life (Rosenbaum, 1975). Political culture has been defined either from the individual or collective perspective depending upon the level at which we want to study political life. From the individual perspective, political culture entails all the important ways in which a person is subjectively oriented towards the essential elements in their political system. That is, we want to know what individuals think and feel about the symbols, institutions, and rules that constitute the fundamental political order of their society and how

Why citizens vote 31 they respond to them. From the collective perspective, on the other hand, political culture seeks to understand the collective orientation of a group or community of people towards the basic elements of their political system, its institutions, and officials. This, therefore, means that when political culture is discussed, it usually refers to the mass political orientation towards the whole political system (Rosenbaum, 1975, pp. 3 4).

“Civic cultures” and political participation

Almond and Verba (1963, p. 26), in their seminal study The Civic Culture defined political culture as consisting of cognitive, affective, and evaluative orientations towards political phenomena that may be distributed across national populations or subgroups. These combined in various ways, such that three major cultural orientations - parochial, subject, and participatory - could be identified. Each carried implications for the level and style of political participation that citizens typically undertake. Beginning with the parochial culture, Bennett (1986, p. 8) suggests a parochial person is an individual who sees no relevance for himself and his family to what goes on in the public realm since what the government does is irrelevant to his personal existence. Such citizens have little or no cognitive understanding of the political system. In countries where this type of culture is dominant, the citizens tend not to expect anything positive from the government, nor do they expect to participate in politics, since politics is considered as a domain of the elites. Moreover, the government in such a polity is seen just as an enforcer of rules and consequently the realm of politics is considered to be avoided at all cost and means. In their analysis, Almond and Verba considered Mexico as a perfect example that illustrates this culture. How does this culture relate to electoral politics at the individual level? In a parochial society, I would expect turnout to be very low since the awareness and expectation of what is expected from the political system or government is low.

The next type is the subject culture. In societies with this culture, citizens are believed to possess only cognitive orientations towards the output aspect of the political system. Citizens in such societies, therefore, expect positive “things” (policies) from the government, but they do not tend to be politically active themselves. Italy and Germany were classified under the subject culture. The difference between the subject culture and parochial one discussed above is that individuals in the subject culture are considered to have high levels of awareness and expectation about the political system, but their participation rate is low since they also consider politics, most especially voting, as a domain of the elites. The implication of this culture with respect to voting decisions is that people’s propensity to vote will be very low as long as the political system or government meets the expectations of the citizenry.

The last of the cultural orientations is the participatory one. In societies where this culture predominates, individuals tend to have very high governmental expectations and personally participate in electoral politics.

The participatory culture is considered as a central democratic feature and portrays citizens as highly inclined to participate since they are well informed of the input and output aspects of the political system. In their typology, Almond and Verba include both the United States of America and the United Kingdom as countries that have this participatory culture. Almond and Verba’s works25 have been subject to various criticisms over the years - for instance, it is difficult to assign countries a given cultural profile since this may change and evolve over time, but their seminal approach provides this study with a potentially useful cue in examining factors affecting electoral turnout.

Beer (1974, pp. 26-27) built on Almond and Verba’s work to argue that political culture orients a people towards a polity and its processes, providing it with a system of belief, that is a cognitive map, a way of evaluating its operations and set of expressive symbols. From the above-mentioned definitions of political culture, it is clear political culture deals with individual subjective orientations towards the basic elements of their political system. This sounds like an accurate but not a satisfactory definition, as it is necessary to define more specifically what the key subjective orientations are. This is no easy task to undertake, as Rosenbaum (1975, p. 4) argues, scholars themselves have never reached a consensus on the proper components of political culture. Some analysts begin by including in political culture all politically relevant orientations including cognitive, evaluative, or expressive ones. This is so unbounded that a researcher would have to spend an interminable time compiling an “elephantine list” of orientations so as to be sure nothing relevant is left unnoticed Rosenbaum (1975). On the other hand, other analysts attempt to make the list more manageable by limiting political culture to orientations towards political institutions, which sounds like a useful strategy but, as Geertz (1963, p. 212) argues, it may lead to omitting other dimensions of political life that are instrumental in shaping the fundamental political order of a society. But it is good to stress the abundance of definition need not mean intellectual disorder since, in the proliferation of ideas about what constitutes political culture, one can distil a set of common items on which most scholars would agree. This point is supported by Lucian W. Pye (1966, p. 19) who suggests that political culture must be limited to the attitudes, beliefs, and sentiments that give order and meaning to the political process and provide the underlying assumptions and rules that govern behaviour.

Similarly, Rosenbaum (1975) insists that whenever analysts offer any list of what political culture is, they are, in effect, using a rule of thumb: those dimensions of an individual’s thoughts, feelings or behaviour that are linked to the creation and maintenance of a society’s fundamental political order belong under the label “political culture”. In effect, this book relies on Almond and Verba’s three core elements of cultural attitudes: orientation towards governmental structures, orientation towards others in the political system, and orientation towards one’s own political activity. Orientation towards governmental structures is concerned with regime orientation and orientation towards government input and outputs. Orientation towards others

Why citizens vote 33 in the political system deals with issues relating to political trust, political identification and rules of the game, and, finally, orientation towards one’s own political activity deals with political competence and political efficacy (Rosenbaum, 1975, pp. 6-8). From these orientations, I derive the following variables: political interest, political knowledge political efficacy, political trust, and social trust. The empirical connections between these factors and people’s decision of whether to vote or not vote in newly consolidated democracies will be examined in this book. These variables can be viewed as cognitive characteristics that are expected to function as resources and therefore increase people’s decision to participate. That is, in brief, it can be hypothesised that the higher an individual’s political interest, political efficacy, political trust, and/or social trust the higher their propensity to vote.

 
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