What’s the Matter with Liberalism? Reassessing Voting, Politics, and Ideology


The 2004 presidential election raised at least two questions for election law analysis. First, in contrast to the past several decades of low voter turnout, why were voters so motivated to go to the polls in 2004? Second, why did many voters who were part of the Democrats’ traditional base vote in opposition to what was widely considered to be their economic self-interest? My argument is that the answer to these questions can be conjoined by reviving and reinvigorating a non-pejorative theory of ideology.

A revised theory of ideology recognizes the multiple levels on which ideologies – both political and legal – operate. Ideology encompasses not only possible voter distortion – the accusation typically hurled against one’s opponent – but the motivations for one’s own partisan beliefs. As such, ideology has a deeper, more positive characteristic: it can act to integrate an individual’s or group’s sense of identity.

In order for the present political and legal dynamics to be understood and changed, then, we must recapture the multiple characteristics of ideology, both as distortive and as constitutive and integrative. This revival of ideology is also ineluctable: it comports with the very way the mind is structured. Here I draw on not only theories of ideology but other work in the cognitive sciences. The divide is not between one political party’s right reason and the other’s distorted ideology but between two ideologies, with all their negative and positive components. I conclude by examining how political persuasion, change, and transformation are possible within this ideological framework. The Article assists the subtlety by which election law analysis investigates and assesses voter motivation.


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Jurisprudence | Law and Politics | Law and Society

Date of this Version

October 2005

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