Sober reality of political belief systems? 

The often impressive Eamonn Fitzgerald has a post summarising some points from an article by Louis Menand in the New Yorker, 'The Unpolitical Animal', about US presidential elections. For example, a bad weather season in several states has been calculated to have cost Al Gore 2.8 million votes in 2000, and thus the election. Based on survey research, Philip Converse is quoted to have written in 1964 that "only around ten per cent of the public has what can be called, even generously, a political belief system" and Converse concluded that "very substantial portions of the public" hold opinions that are essentially meaningless. Unashamed blockquote from Eamonn Fitzgerald's post:
Menand ends with an observation on US political campaigning that, although obvious, cannot be stressed enough. When it comes to winning voters, "…the things that help to convince them are likely to make ideologues sick — things like which candidate is more optimistic." And this lead him to conclude:

"For many liberals, it may have been dismaying to listen to John Kerry and John Edwards, in their speeches at the Democratic National Convention, utter impassioned bromides about how 'the sun is rising' and 'our best days are still to come.' But that is what a very large number of voters want to hear. If they believe it, then Kerry and Edwards will get their votes."

And if Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rudolph Giuliani say it even louder with more passion in Manhattan in the coming days, then Bush and Cheney will get their votes.
Recently I saw a few minutes of the 'Alltagsgeschichten' TV production 'Das kleine Glück im Schrebergarten', in which Elisabeth Spira interviewed the owners of several 'Schrebergärten' (tiny gardens in municipality-managed colonies within the outer city districts of Vienna). The political statements of several of Spira's interviewees were examples of such really meaningless political belief systems. But I want to remain sceptical whether this is indeed characteristic of a "very substantial portion of the public".

UPDATE: Econlog reports on research that found correlates of political affiliation in brain scans. What a relief.

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