There is a great deal of research, spanning social psychology, sociology, and political science, on politically relevant attitudes toward women and the influence of gender on individual’s political decision making. First, there are several measures of attitudes toward women, including measures of sexism and gender role attitudes, such as the Attitudes Toward Women Scale, the Old-Fashioned Sexism Scale, the Modern Sexism Scale, and the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory. There are advantages and disadvantages of these existing measures. Moreover, there are important correlates and consequences of these attitudes. Correlates include education level and the labor force participation of one’s mother or spouse. The consequences of sexist and non-egalitarian gender role attitudes include negative evaluations of female candidates for political office and lower levels of gender equality at the state level. Understanding the sources and effects of attitudes toward women is relevant to public policy and electoral scholars.
Second, gender appears to have a strong effect on shaping men’s and women’s attitudes and political decisions. Gender differences in public opinion consistently arise across several issue areas, and there are consistent gender differences in vote choice and party identification. Various issues produce gender gaps, including the domestic and international use of force, compassion issues such as social welfare spending, equal rights, and government spending more broadly. Women are consistently more liberal on all of these policies. On average, women are more likely than men to vote for a Democratic Party candidate and identify as a Democrat. There is also a great deal of research investigating various origins of these gender differences. Comprehending when and why gender differences in political decision making emerge is important to policymakers, politicians, the political parties, and scholars.
The role of candidates in shaping voting choice has generated much research—and at least as much controversy—since modern electoral behavior research began in the 1960s. Much of the controversy surrounds the personalization of politics and whether political systems—and especially parliamentary systems—are becoming more leader-oriented. Three fundamental changes in electoral behavior underpin the study of candidates and voting choice behavior: the declining impact of social structure on the vote; partisan dealignment, with voters drifting away from their traditional party attachments; and the decline in the mass memberships of political parties. Researchers argue that because of these changes, fostered by the growth of television, candidates have assumed a greater role in structuring the vote. While there is impressionistic evidence that leaders have become more important, empirical evidence of an underlying change in voter behavior is more difficult to identify. Accordingly, this essay focuses mainly on changes in the political context within which candidates operate, since we expect this to be the source of any change.
The design of political institutions shapes the level of attention that candidates receive, and that is especially the case with electoral systems. Electoral systems with fewer parties are more likely to focus voters’ attentions on candidates when compared to systems with larger numbers of parties. Weak party organizations coupled with partisan dealignment within the electorate can also alter the role and profile of candidates, although their impact is difficult to quantify. Changes in the mass media—and particularly the advent of television in the 1960s and the visual images on which it relies—are often viewed as the major cause of the personalization of politics. A new disruptive technology, the Internet, looks likely to stimulate additional political change for candidates and voting in the 21st century. Finally, what voters look for in their candidates appears to be stable both over time and cross-nationally and can be reduced to two overarching qualities: character and competence.
Susan E. Scarrow
Party membership has long been an important channel for political participation in many countries. Strong membership organizations have helped parties win elections and stay connected with voters between elections, and membership opportunities have helped to mobilize some citizens who might otherwise have stayed out of politics. Yet in the last quarter-century, long-established political parties in parliamentary democracies have, with a few notable exceptions, experienced sharp enrollment declines, while newer parties have developed modest memberships at best. This has led many observers to question the continued viability of membership-based political parties.
However, that is not the whole story. While some signs point to the obsolescence of party membership, there are other indications that parties are trying to reinvent the form, whether as a passport to individual political empowerment or as a pathway to digital citizenship. Most strikingly, many parties are experimenting with new procedures that give members a direct say in important party decisions. In this sense, the paradoxical story of party membership in the early 21st century is one of numerical decline accompanied by a possible increase in political relevance.
Miki Caul Kittilson
The burgeoning field of gender and political behavior shows that the way in which ordinary citizens connect to the democratic process is gendered. Gender differences in voting behavior and participation rates persist across democracies. At the same time, countries vary substantially in the size of these gender gaps. In contemporary elections, women tend to support leftist parties more than men in many countries. Although men and women vote at similar rates today, women still trail men in important participatory attitudes and activities such as political interest and discussion. Inequalities in political involvement undermine the quality of deliberation, representation, and legitimacy in the democratic process. A confluence of several interrelated factors (resources, economy, socialization, political context) work together to account for these differences. Today, scholars more carefully consider the socially constructed nature of gender and the ways in which it interacts with other identities. Recent research on gender and political behavior suggests that political context affects different kinds of women in different ways, and future research should continue to investigate these important interactions.
Willy Jou and Russell J. Dalton
One of the ways that citizens and elites orient themselves to politics is in reference to a Left-Right vocabulary. Left and Right, respectively, refer to a specific set of progressive and conservative policy preferences and political goals. Thus, Left-Right becomes a framework for positioning oneself, political figures, and political parties into a common framework. Most citizens identify themselves in Left-Right terms and their distribution of these orientations vary across nations. These orientations arise both from long-term societal influences and from the short-term issues of the day. Most people also place political parties in Left-Right terms. This leads citizens to use Left-Right comparisons as an important factor in their voting choice, although this impact varies considerably across nations. Most parties attract voters that broadly share their Left-Right orientations.
The German sociologist Niklas Luhmann has provided one of the most elaborate theories of society available, as well as numerous works on specific aspects of society. Commonly labeled as “systems theory,” this is but a shorthand description of Luhmann’s theory. In fact, the theory rests on at least three main theoretical pillars. In addition to systems theory, a theory of social evolution and a theory of social differentiation play important roles. The present article introduces these three pillars and describes Luhmann’s theory of politics in this context. It outlines the crucial difference between a theory of politics as part of a theory of society on the one hand, and political theory as a reflective theory within the political system on the other hand. More specifically, it introduces Luhmann’s accounts of the notions of “political power,” “differentiation,” “the state,” “political steering,” and “the self-description of the political system.” The contribution concludes with some observations on the fact that Luhmann’s theory has tended to overlook the dimension of international politics, but that his theory provides opportunities to account for it in innovative ways.
Russell J. Dalton
Early electoral research in the United States discovered the most important concept in the study of political behavior: party identification. Party identification is a long-term, affective attachment to one’s preferred political party. Cross-national research finds that these party identities are a potent cue in guiding the attitudes and behavior of the average person. Partisans tend to repeatedly support their preferred party, even when the candidates and the issues change. Party ties mobilize people to vote to support their party, and to work for the party during the campaign. And given the limited information most people have about complex political issues, party ties provide a cue to what positions one should support. The levels of partisanship among contemporary publics, and how it varies across nations and across time, are described. The implications of these patterns, and the current research debates on the significance of partisanship for democracies today, are discussed.
Matthew Cawvey, Matthew Hayes, Damarys Canache, and Jeffery J. Mondak
“Personality” refers to a multifaceted and enduring internal, or psychological, structure that influences patterns in a person’s actions and expressed attitudes. Researchers have associated personality with such attributes as temperament and values, but most scholarly attention has centered on individual differences in traits, or general behavioral and attitudinal tendencies. The focus on traits was reinvigorated with the rise of the Big Five personality framework in the 1980s and 1990s, when cross-cultural evidence pointed to the existence of the dimensions of openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability. Studies have found these five trait dimensions to be highly heritable and stable over time, leading researchers to argue that the Big Five exert a causal impact on attitudes and behavior. The stability of traits also contrasts with more dynamic individual-level characteristics such as mood or with contextual factors in a person’s environment. Explanations of human decision-making, therefore, would be incomplete without attention to personality traits.
With these considerations in mind, political scientists have devoted an increasing amount of attention to the study of personality and citizen attitudes and behavior. The goal of this research program is not to claim that personality traits offer the only explanation for why some citizens fulfill the basic duties of citizenship, such as staying informed and turning out to vote, and others do not. Instead, scholars have studied personality in order to understand why individuals in the same economic and political environment differ in their political attitudes and actions. And accounting for the consistent influence of personality can illuminate the magnitude of environmental factors and other individual-level attributes that do shift over time.
Research on personality and political behavior has explored several substantive topics, including political information, attitudes, and participation. Major findings in this burgeoning literature include the following: (1) politically interested and knowledgeable citizens tend to exhibit high levels of openness to experience, (2) ideological liberalism is more prevalent among individuals high in openness and low in conscientiousness, and (3) citizens are more likely to participate in politics if they are high in openness and extraversion.
Although the personality and politics literature has shown tremendous progress in recent years, additional work remains to be done to produce comprehensive explanations of political behavior. Studies currently focus on the direct impact of traits on political attitudes and actions, but personality also could work through other individual-level attitudes and characteristics to influence behavior. In addition, trait effects may occur only in response to certain attitudes or contextual factors. Instead of assuming that personality operates in isolation from other predictors of political behavior, scholars can build on past studies by mapping out and testing interrelationships between psychological traits and the many other factors thought to influence how and how well citizens engage the world of politics.
Tom W. G. van der Meer
For decades, scholarly inquiry into political trust has been motivated by concerns about declining levels of public trust in politics. Because political trust is considered a necessary precondition for democratic rule, a decline in trust is thought to fundamentally challenge the quality of representative democracy.
Fundamentally, political trust can be understood as citizens’ support for political institutions such as government and parliament in the face of uncertainty about or vulnerability to the actions of these institutions. While political trust is conventionally treated as a pro-democratic value, its absence is not evidently detrimental to democracy. Rather, skepticism stimulates political engagement and signals a willingness to judge political institutions by their own merits.
In cross-national comparisons political trust is consistently highest in countries that are not considered liberal democracies. Within the set of liberal democracies, the Nordic countries tend to have the highest trust rates, while the former communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe have the lowest. Despite evidence that political trust declines in many longstanding democracies in the 1960s and 1970s, the last few decades are characterized by trendless fluctuations in most countries.
While scholars have made great headway in understanding the sources of political trust—most notably corruption, procedural fairness, (economic) performance, inclusive institutions, and socialization—this article argues that knowledge about its consequences has remained remarkably scarce.
Sabine C. Carey and Neil J. Mitchell
Pro-government militias are a prominent feature of civil wars. Governments in Colombia, Syria, and Sudan recruit irregular forces in their armed struggle against insurgents. The United States collaborated with Awakening groups to counter the insurgency in Iraq, just as colonizers used local armed groups to fight rebellions in their colonies. An emerging cross-disciplinary literature on pro-government non-state armed groups generates a variety of research questions for scholars interested in conflict, political violence, and political stability: Does the presence of such groups indicate a new type of conflict? What are the dynamics that drive governments to align with informal armed groups and that make armed groups choose to side with the government? Given the risks entailed in surrendering a monopoly of violence, is there a turning point in a conflict when governments enlist these groups? How successful are these groups? Why do governments use these non-state armed actors to shape foreign conflicts whether as insurgents or counterinsurgents abroad? Are these non-state armed actors always useful to governments or perhaps even an indicator for state failure?
We examine the demand for and supply of pro-government armed groups and the legacies that shape their role in civil wars. The enduring pattern of collaboration between governments and these armed non-state actors challenges conventional theory and the idea of an evolutionary process of the modern state consolidating the means of violence. Research on these groups and their consequences began with case studies, and these continue to yield valuable insights. More recently, survey work and cross-national quantitative research contribute to our knowledge. This mix of methods is opening new lines of inquiry for research on insurgencies and the delivery of the core public good of effective security.