The nature of political ideology in the contemporary electorate
Given the increasingly polarized nature of American politics, renewed attention has been focused on the ideological nature of the mass public. Using Bayesian Item Response Theory (IRT), we examine the contemporary contours of policy attitudes as they relate to ideological identity and we consider the implications for the way scholars conceptualize, measure, and use political ideology in empirical research. Although political rhetoric today is clearly organized by a single ideological dimension, we find that the belief systems of the mass public remain multidimensional, with many in the electorate holding liberal preferences on one dimension and conservative preferences on another. These cross-pressured individuals tend to self-identify as moderate (or say "Don't Know") in response to the standard liberal-conservative scale, thereby jeopardizing the validity of this commonly used measure. Our analysis further shows that failing to account for the multidimensional nature of ideological preferences can produce inaccurate predictions about the voting behavior of the American public.
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