Identity, Ideology, and Cultural Institutions
by Shai Sachs, Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 12:03:50 PM EST
There's a lot to agree with in his post, although I do think he misses a few key points. First and foremost, I believe he's only partially correct in claiming that the ideological self-identification is essentially meaningless. While it is true that a clever ad campaign can move ideological self-identification numbers tremendously, it's also true that self-identification numbers have been remarkably stable in exit polls for many years: about 20% of voters self-identify as liberals, while about 33% of voters self-identify as conservatives. It would appear that about half of the country self-identifies ideologically in a very stable way, meaning that ideology is not quite dead - it's just dead for about half of the electorate, and probably a pretty good share of the non-voting adult population.
Second and perhaps more importantly, while it's true that "all of the major institutions that produce someone's cultural identity ... are the same
institutions that produce someone's ideology", each institution pulls the identity and ideology levers in different ways. For example, while it's almost certainly true that educational institutions play a role in ideological formation, do they really do much for identity creation? Contra-wise, the role of family life in ideological formation is murky at best, while family life plays a central role in identity creation.
At the end of the day, I think while Chris is largely right, there is a clearer line between ideology and identity than he supposes. Probably, what this means is that there are many people who vote an identity, a pretty sizable group that votes both an identity and an ideology, and a small number who vote against an identity/ideology. That obviously has implications for electoral strategy, but I think it also has implications for what I'd call (for lack of a better term) our cultural strategy - our strategy for engaging and shaping cultural institutions in order to keep our base growing and strong. In particular, this means that our cultural strategy should not only include efforts to strengthen and create cultural institutions which form the progressive ideology/identity, it also means that the strategy should draw clear lines between cultural movements and progressivism.