Political Ideology and Political Parties

The Conservative Party of Canada website in the weeks leading up to the 2015 federal election.

The Conservative Party of Canada website in the weeks leading up to the 2015 federal election.

Today, we continue to look at Canada’s glorious Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. Besides being the current PM of Canada, Stephen Harper is also an honourable MP (member of parliament–we Canadians are forever grateful to the glorious denizens of Calgary Southwest*) and the leader of the federal Conservative Party.

On the short quiz that I gave on Tuesday, you were asked to write three words or phrases that are usually associated with conservatism, as a political ideology. Did any of you use the word “protect?”

Below you’ll find some screenshots of the scrolling images on the home page of the Conservative Party website. You’ll notice that the political campaign operatives have decided to portray PM Harper is our daddy, whose job it is to protect us in a dangerous world. Protect our jobs (presumably from being snatched away by foreigners); protect our children; protecting our economy, and protecting us from terrorists and others who would do us harm. Will it work?

“Fear makes man unwise in the three great departments of human conduct: his dealings with nature, his dealings with other men, and his dealings with himself. Until you have admitted your own fears to yourself, and have guarded yourself by a difficult effort of will against their myth-making power, you cannot hope to think truly about many matters of great importance … .”

—Bertrand Russell (“Outline of Intellectual Rubbish” in Unpopular Essays 1950)

*Calgary Southwest is no longer a federal constituency. It has been dissolved into Calgary Heritage and Calgary Midnapore.

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US Midterm Election Results and Climate Change

Election results in the United States are mostly final and the Republican Party has had a big night, capturing control of the US Senate, which combined with a Republican-controlled House of Representative means that President Barack Obama will face a united (in party name, at least) Republican Congress upon the opening of the new Congressional session–the 114th–which meets for the first time in early January of next year.

The New York Times has a handy graphic, summarizing the disconcerting results (from the perspective of climate change politics) of exit polls earlier today. This seems to be disheartening news to those who wish to see the United States government become more proactive in the are of climate politics and climate change. As you can see, while six in 10 voters said that climate change is a problem, fully 83\% of the partisans of the majority party in Congress believe the same.

us_midterm_elections_exit_polls_climatechange

Does Political Ideology Change as we Age?

It has long been accepted conventional wisdom that as we age we become more conservative in our political views. Remember the quote that has been (allegedly) wrongly attributed to Winston Churchill:

“If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart.  If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.”

But as with many things, conventional wisdom doesn’t seem to be very wise. According to recent research, individuals do not become more conservative as they age. In fact, just the opposite may be true. From an article on the Discovery magazine website, we learn:

Ongoing research, however, fails to back up the stereotype [about age and conservatism]. While there is some evidence that today’s seniors may be more conservative than today’s youth, that’s not because older folks are more conservative than they use to be. Instead, our modern elders likely came of age at a time when the political situation favored more conservative views.

In fact, studies show that people may actually get more liberal over time when it comes to certain kinds of beliefs. That suggests that we are not pre-determined to get stodgy, set in our ways or otherwise more inflexible in our retirement years. [emphasis added]

The studies do reference data collected in the United States, but there’s no reason to think that the same phenomenon wouldn’t apply in other advanced capitalist democracies.

How do your political beliefs compare to those of your parents? What was the political climate like at the time your parents were becoming politically aware? In which country (if it wasn’t Canada) did your parents come of political age?

Are your Political Attitudes and Ideologies Biologically Determined?

Next week (January 31) in POLI 1100, we’ll be discussing political attitudes and political ideologies. The conclusion of Chapter 5 in Dyck summarizes political ideologies nicely:

Conflicting ideologies offer us a means of understanding our society, situating ourselves in the political world, and participating in actions intended to advance our interests and those of our communities.

What is the source of any individual’s political ideological leanings? A common answer is that we are politically socialized into our ideologies. Agents of political socialization such as families, churches, educational institutions, and the media play prominent roles in the process of an individual’s ideological development. But what if we were biologically pre-disposed to our ideological views. Is there a chance that some of us are more conservative, and others more liberal, from birth, and the role that agents of political socialization is negligible? According to recent research, the answer to that question may be ‘yes’. How much of the developmental process of political ideology is nature and how much is nurture?

As much as we stake our identity on such core beliefs, it’s unlikely we emerged from the womb as little liberals or libertarians. This raises a fundamental question: At what point in our development did such predispositions begin to form, to coalesce and to harden? What is it about our biology and/or psychology that propels us toward a liberal or conservative mindset?

The question has long intrigued social psychologists such as John Jost of New York University. In a 2003 meta-analysis of 50 years of research, he summarizes the overwhelming evidence that political ideologies, “like virtually all other belief systems, are adopted in part because they satisfy various psychological needs.” Jost quickly adds that this “is not to say they are unprincipled, unwarranted, or unresponsive to reason or evidence” — only that the underlying motivation to believe in them emerges from somewhere other than the rational, conscious mind.

According to Jost, political ideologies derive from our effort to “satisfy…psychological needs.” What, though, gives rise to these psychological needs? It could very well be our biology/physiology:

Researchers at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln showed people a series of photos — some endearing, some disgusting — and then measured their physiological and cognitive reactions. Conservatives, in keeping with past literature, reacted more strongly to the negative images, and liberals strongly to the positive ones…

…“I figured because conservatives reacted more strongly to negative things, they’d be more likely to avoid them,” said Mike Dodd, an assistant professor of psychology and the study’s lead author. “That ended up not being the case. They ended up locking onto them quicker and taking more time on them, which makes sense from a policy perspective. Oftentimes they end up confronting things that they think of as threats.” [emphasis added]

Are these findings consistent with your personal experience? Are they plausible explanations for the political ideological leanings of your friends and family?

Do you even know your political ideology? Here’s a relatively painless online test you can take that summarizes political ideologies in a two-dimensional (left-right; authoritarian-libertarian) scale.

China and Civil Society

This week in IS 210 we addressed the concept of civil society–its institutions, and the relationships thereof with the state and market sectors. As part of today’s lecture, we viewed an excerpt of a video recording of a roundtable discussion about China and civil society. In a highly informative presentation, George Mason University (Fairfax, VA) research professor, Carol Lee Hamrin, assessed the changes in Chinese civil society over the last few decades. As the power and reach of the Chinese party-state recedes it has opened up room for the increasing independence of civil society institutions and (especially) the commercialisation of the Chinese economy.

You can view the whole video here.

CDU and Greens form Coalition Government in Hamburg

ollowing our mock election and government formation simulation, I thought it might be of interest to you to note that the CDU and the Green Party of have formed an historic alliance in the city-state government of Hamburg (Hamburg is one of the sixteen German states, or Lander). Der Spiegel (the German equivalent of Time magazine) has more on the new coalition government.

Hamburg mayor Ole von Beust, a Christian Democrat, has found \

The conservative Christian Democrats and the environmental Green Party have long been skeptical of one another. But now, the two have joined forces to form a government in the German city-state of Hamburg.

Members of the German Green Party and the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) have arrived at an agreement “in principle” to govern together in Hamburg, SPIEGEL ONLINE has learned from Green Party sources. It would be the first CDU-Green coalition at the state level in German politics.

We just have to put it in writing,” said the source, who asked not to be named. “It’s just a matter of the preamble (to the coalition agreement), and such things.”

The coalition agreement will reportedly be unveiled late Thursday — which implies that some points of disagreement, like a Hamburg-area schools policy and the fate of two coal-fired power plants, have been settled.

“We have nothing else to discuss in a full meeting,” said a spokeswoman for the Greens, Antje Möller, after the last round of talks on Wednesday. The two sides had reached an understanding, she said, on “the points which still remained.”

(Picture Caption:Hamburg mayor Ole von Beust, a Christian Democrat has found “common ground” with Green leader Christa Goetsch.)

Mock German Election Simulation–Government Formation Results

In the second part of our mock German election simulation–the government formation negotiations–we were able to get a new government voted into power by the recently elected Bundestag.  (I refer you to this post for more information about the electoral results.)

To remind you, following the election, we had the composition of the Bundestag was:

FDP–6 mandate (formateur party)

CDU/CSU–4 mandates

SPD–3 mandates

Greens–3 mandates

In order to have a secure governing coalition, a governing coalition of at least 9 mandates would be needed in this sixteen-member parliament.

The FDP were unable to convince any of the other parties to form a governing coalition with them, and the government that was voted into office, by a majority vote of 10-6 was a three-party coalition of the Greens, CDU/CSU, and the SPD.

In the end, it was the personal ambition of the CDU/CSU leader–Patrick S.–that ruled the day.  He wanted to become Chancellor and this steely determination served him well as he, with his fellow party members and advisory committee, was able to effectively forge a rather wieldy three-party governing coalition.

Why did Patrick S. want to become Chancellor so desperately?  There have been reports in some of the leading journals that it has been his dream since childhood.  But in a sit-down interview with Deutsche Welle following his ascension to the Chancellorship, Chancellor S. claimed that it was because this election was crucial to the future of the German state.  According to the Chancellor, he and his party believe that a moral crisis of epic proportions has descended upon Germany and only his party had the necessary moral acuity to set Germany back on the correct path.

The Chancellor and the six-member Cabinet is composed of the following:

Chancellor–Patrick S. (CDU/CSU)

Minister of Education–Becky W. (Greens)

Minister of the Interior–Erick K. (CDU/CSU)

Minister of the Environment–Zhivko I. (Greens)

Minister of Foreign Affairs–Kyle B. (CDU/CSU)

Minister of Health–Rip F. (SPD)

Minister of Labor–Andrew S. (SPD)

One of the advisers to the SPD commented that the SPD actually had refused to sign a coalition agreement offered to them by the FDP, which in retrospect, was better for the SPD than the one they signed ultimately.  There seemed to be a consensus within the SPD that the arrogance of the FDP had created friction between the two potential coalition partners.

I look forward to reading your impressions of the simulation exercise on your blogs.