Explaining Political Attitudes


Assigned debates work well for weeks where several competing theoretical approaches are covered.  This debate involves competing theories on approaches to explaining political attitudes.

The steps for the assigned debate are as follows:  

- The section divides into 3 groups, since that is the number of theoretical approaches to this topic.  The approaches to explaining political attitudes are genetic/biological, socialization/symbolic politics, and situational/rational choice.

- The groups use their assigned approach to answer the following questions: Why are voters in Mississippi more conservative than voters in Massachusetts? Why do election results vary from one election to another (e.g. from 2008 to 2010)? Who supports health care reform? 

- The groups are given about 10 minutes to deliberate and prepare their answers. 

- The groups then take turns defending their approach to the class by using it to answer each of the three questions. At the end of each presentation, the floor is opened up to criticisms and questions for a few minutes, before moving on to the next group. 

- The instructor concludes the section by pointing out that different approaches are good at explaining different types of variation. The questions given to them asked for explanations of variation across time, geography and individuals. As an example, the genetic explanation is good for differences between individuals, but not for over-time differences. I also briefly discuss, in non-statistical language, the concept of "percentage of variation explained" and point out that several approaches can all be true at the same time.