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Neither Liberal Nor Conservative: Ideological Innocence in the American Public, Donald R. Kinder and Nathan P. Kalmoe

Reviewed by William G. Jacoby

It is difficult to imagine how one could provide a description of contemporary American government and politics without resorting to the use of ideological terminology. Journalists, pundits, and academics routinely characterize candidates, officeholders, policies, institutions, agencies, and even time periods according to the degree to which they reflect liberal or conservative orientations. So it probably seems reasonable to extend this type of thinking to “ordinary people” and view American public opinion through a similarly ideological lens. In Neither Liberal nor Conservative: Ideological Innocence in the American Public, Donald R. Kinder and Nathan P. Kalmoe show convincingly that doing so results in a serious misrepresentation of the ways that most citizens think about the political world.

The main starting point for this study—like just about all other research on mass-level ideology—is Philip Converse's seminal pair of essays, “The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics” and “Attitudes and Nonattitudes: Continuation of a Dialogue.” Chapter 1 summarizes these works and their general conclusion that most of the general public is entirely innocent of ideology. The second chapter covers some of the major challenges to these conclusions that appeared in the political science literature over the p

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