Ideological Structure and Consistency in the Age of Polarization

Caitlin E. Jewitt, Paul Goren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Decades of research establish that political elites hold more ideologically consistent and structured policy preferences than ordinary citizens. Since the late 1970s, American politics, at the elite level, has become increasingly polarized and changes in the news media have made it easier for citizens to find news catering to their ideological tastes. We capitalize on these developments to examine whether ideologically engaged citizens–those who hold strong ideological identities, who are politically informed, and who participate actively in public affairs–match elites in ideological consistency and structure during the age of polarization. We test this hypothesis by applying correlation and measurement modeling techniques to data from multiple National Election Study and Convention Delegate Study surveys. We find that (a) ideologically engaged masses hold more tightly organized opinions than the less engaged every year, but lagged elites by a wide margin in 1980; (b) convention delegates manifest impressive levels of consistency every year; (c) by 1992 engaged citizens had caught up to political elites; and (d) ideological consistency increased substantially over time in the mass public, but only among the most ideologically engaged.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)81-105
Number of pages25
JournalAmerican Politics Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
A portion of this project was funded by the University of Minnesota through a Graduate Research Partnership Program. Fellowship

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, © The Author(s) 2015.


  • ideological consistency and structure
  • ideological engagement
  • polarization


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