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Does Ideology matter in politics today? An ideology describes a set of ideas which encompass ones expectations, actions and goals. They are a consistent set of beliefs. Ideology exists in every facet of political decision making, much like how society views the world around them. They offer an explanation to understand, explain and change political reality. [1] The well known figure of Karl Marx who was among other titles, a political theorist, was lead to the conclusion that great injustices occurred through inexorable forces evident in human society[2].

This theory can explain why on most occasions, an ideology has been the product of one individual and not a group effort. The existence of ideology is something that is inherently present in everybody and should not be subdued in the world of politics. Ideology continues to be critically important in politics as it provides a foundation for the operation of political parties. The ideological views set a framework in which supporters can relate to and expect to have their views represented thus being an essential factor in politics. Political Ideologies exist within the various political groups operating in the world today.

Even non-ideologues may possess a consistent set of opinion that result from underlying structures. Socialism for example, uses ideology as foundations for its political operations. The core ideology behind socialism relates to an economy that advocates common ownership and working cooperatively in the means of production and distributing its resources evenly[3]. A socialist also believes the body of the state should look after its people. This core ideology of socialism then allows for common understanding for advocators and supporters from which progress can be made.

The Liberal form of politics, on the other hand, has basic ideology in which they also strive to uphold. Those beliefs are based upon ‘a free, just, democratic, and progressive society…with a government and an economic system that will serve the priorities and interests of the overwhelming majority of our people’[4] A communist ideology involves the belief that offers a ‘distinct socio-political philosophy that is willing to use violent means to attain its goal of a classless society. ’[5] Ideology is often strongly linked towards Communism as its beliefs strongly dictate their peration, whereas less fundamental political parties exist in a less predictable manner. Various other political ideologies exist, each with a unique set of basic beliefs regarding political, social, economic and cultural affairs shared by the majority of those living within its society. The incorporation of ideology within the political realm is particularly important as it separates these various groups from one another. Its significance to the people who elect their preferred political candidates is equally important and ultimately the importance ideology has in their voting behavior.

In a democratic society, the ways in which voters perceive future candidates or current leaders are outlined in the ideological method in which those elected politicians abide by. Voters can positively identify with a suitable political party by determining its relevant ideologies. The public’s observation of ones political methods can gain an understanding of how a particular politician is likely to conduct him or herself in office. The substantial assortment of political arguments can be daunting to decipher, especially if many parties evoke the usual ‘…desire to promote the interest of the general community’[6] as its main promise.

However, a predetermined understanding of how a particular political party is likely to conform, helps make an individuals choice that much simpler. Reflecting a political position is made more understandable to others by associating with those principles. Though voters who have their own well formed ideologies will more likely support those with similar attitudes and thus ‘…ideological reference gives voters an anchor on which to rely’[7] as can be evidenced in various examination findings.

A contemporary study on the effects of political ideologies on the general voting public was performed by three prominent American University students. C Judd, J Krosnick and M Milburn set out to establish whether a link existed between those who are more politically sophisticated with pre existing ideological beliefs and those who were less likely to express political attitudes and determine if basic intuitive ideology contributed to their role in the electorate. The study took responses received by a variety of subjects and set out to establish whether a common underlying ideological actor[8] was consistent among those purported to be politically sophisticated in relation to those more commonly of lesser ideological predispositions. As part of their results, it was confirmed that …(of) those who do express political attitudes, the presence of an underlying political ideology and the stability of such ideology do not seem to depend upon the level of political involvement. [9] Part of the conclusion outlined above confirmed that not only does ideology encompass the most politically inclined participants; ideology is evident in the responses given by those who have little interest in politics to begin with.

This is an important connection that brings into focus that varying degrees of ideology exists within each and every one of us regardless of the level of interest one has towards politics. We each have our own views on the world in which we live in and what factors we believe are correct and areas that need improving. The natural predisposition of the electorate is something that should be considered when establishing the link between ideology and the voting public. In Australian politics, the ideological predisposition is evident across all areas of the system.

Of recent times, the Australian Liberal and Labor party ideology are not as clearly defined as they once were. This recent ‘centre-right politics’[10] strays from each of the two parties traditional ways and this departure from usual methods of progression could explain dissatisfaction evidenced in recent polls[11]. The criticism is based upon their ‘operational ideology,’[12] which is the day to day political outcomes. Academic, Waleed Aly believes there aren’t any real conservatives left anymore. 13] A clearly defined difference between the Liberals and Labor parties is lacking and as such their policies are at times erratic and a loss of confidence from the electorate has resulted. Former Labor politician, Lindsay Tanner reflects on the current state of Australian politics by stating ‘… I hadn’t appreciated…just how much energy in politics is devoted to petty intrigue’[14] which capitulates the majority of sentiments heard recently in the various media outlets. In keeping to an ‘if-it-aint-broke-don’t-fix-it’[15] mentality and focusing on the bigger icture, not just the day to day issues, a political party can follow traditional ideology and society can anticipate what is then likely to result. The criticism is directed towards following larger challenges but ‘the challenge is side stepped because the price that would be paid for taking a serious challenge is just too high. ’[16] So the debate continues. The reluctance of using the word ideology in Australian politics and abroad is notable, particularly given the majority of people who have their own individual philosophy.

An example of such exclusion, a word search carried out on an 81 page official report on the trends in Australian political opinion from 1987-2007 yielded no mention of the word. Examining our main Australian political parties the Australian Labor and Liberal parties’ vision statement, the word ideology was absent in their respective official websites also. To outline their ideology in areas such as infrastructure, economy and democracy, the words ‘values’[17] and ‘our beliefs’[18] are used respectively instead.

The negative connotations associated to the word in the political realm are perhaps due to forever becoming associated with a particular way of thinking and this would hinder any departure from such ideology. Becoming accused of having a distinct fundamental belief, such as being compared to having Communistic ideology, can also result from the points listed under a heading such as ‘our ideologies. ’ Historian T. J. Clark attributes this unwillingness to accept prolific usage of the term because, …like any forms of knowledge, are constructs; they often tied to the attitudes and experiences of a particular class, and therefore at odds, at least to some extent, with the attitudes and experiences of those who do not belong to it’[19] It is noted that some people do not share strong ideological beliefs in which they work to achieve or abide by and conceivably this can also contribute to the sparseness of which it is used politically. It is then understood why alternative words are used in such instances.

The word ‘ideology’ carries powerful meaning behind it and avoidance of using the word in spoken or written communication is an option chosen by many governments. Former Labor politician, Lindsay Tanner has further condemned such refusal to incorporate the bigger picture into recent Australian politics. In a recent interview featured in the Age newspaper on reflecting back on his time in power, Tanner stated that he ‘began to detect about five years ago…political discourse, encouraged timidity and instability, and turned the contest of ideas into a battle for laughs. [20] He noted that the political system was different to what it once was because, ‘right across the political spectrum, people were on about big issues, big ideas, big battles,’[21] Tanner feels this reluctance to embrace potentially risky ideas in politics is wavering and needs to be improved. He describes how over cautious leaders have become and explains that ‘the two prevailing rules of political behavior now are: one, look like you are doing something; and two, don’t offend anyone who matters. [22] This is a sorry state of affairs given that ideology provides the basis for our beliefs and conviction. Tanner believes that in order to get a point across strongly, ‘the message is to be flamboyant, be ridiculous, wave your arms…and go red in the face and at least people will know who you are’[23] which perhaps is lacking in our political leadership, some conviction and presence to make the larger ideas heard and to help generate discussion. Political leaders, officials, speechwriters and media commentators are using alternative descriptions in describing ideology.

Using terms such as ‘beliefs and ‘values’ are deliberately discrediting the presence of ideology in politics. With the lack of direction and purpose, a political party would cease to exist. Collaboration between society and government is created in part by the common understanding they each share and from understanding comes improvement and progress. Ideology, that is a set of ideas which encompass ones expectations, actions and goals, is pivotal in setting those all important foundations.

As resent media commentary has proven, big ideas and big issues are being overrun by the day to day operations of a political party and a fixation to conclude each day with positive political news to be reported upon. The relevance of incorporating ideas and direction to politics today is critical to sustaining a direction for which we can all follow.