Special symposium issue of Critical Review on Democratic Competence

The latest issue of Critical Review (Volume 18, nos. 1-3) centers around Philip E. Converse’s 1964 seminal paper, “The Nature of Belief Systems in the Mass Publics.” Editor Jeffrey Friedman explains the role of his opening essay, which precedes a reprint of the 1964 Converse classic, as well as the structure of the whole issue “…Rather than commenting on their [symposium authors] contributions, I see my task as that of inducing outsiders to the post-Converse literature to read the informative articles published here–by explicating the one that gave rise to them all, “The Nature of Belief Systems” itself. Readers seeking an historical overview of the issues at stake should turn to Stephan Earl Benett’s article below. A thematic treatment of the main lines of scholarly debate “after Converse” is provided by Donald Kinder’s paper. James Fishkin, Doris Graber, Russell Hardin, Arthur Lupia, and Samuel Popkin argue out some of the normative and theoretical implications that have been derived from Converse. And Scott Althaus, Samuel DeCanio, Ilya Somin, and Gregory Wawro focus, albeit not exclusively, on how “Conversean” ideas can be further applied in political and historical research.”

The issue comes to a crescendo with a response piece from Converse himself, called “Democratic Theory and Electoral Reality.”

Abstract of “Democratic Theory and Electoral Reality”:
In response to the dozen essays published here, which relate my 1964 paper on “The Nature of Belief Systems in the Mass Publics” to normative requirements of democratic theory, I note, inter alia, a major misinterpretation of my old argument, as well as needed revisions of that argument in the light of intervening data.Then I address the degree to which there may be some long-term secular change in the parameters that I originally laid out. In the final section, I provide a case study of public understanding of factual trends in federal tax policy in recent decades which seems commendably veridical on average.The preferences of the public thereon add up to a remarkably clear popular mandate. But this mandate seems to disappear rather magically in the voting booth, probably due to a combination of limited contextual information on the public side, and considerable skill on the elite side in manipulating apparent political realities.

Current issues of Critical Review are not available online from the
Penn website (back issues from 1996-2005 are) but are available, including this issue, in print at Van Pelt.

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