Political Ideology: Its Structure, Functions, and Elective Affinities

Annual Review of Psychology

Vol. 60:307-337 (Volume publication date 10 January 2009)


Ideology has re-emerged as an important topic of inquiry among social, personality, and political psychologists. In this review, we examine recent theory and research concerning the structure, contents, and functions of ideological belief systems. We begin by defining the construct and placing it in historical and philosophical context. We then examine different perspectives on how many (and what types of) dimensions individuals use to organize their political opinions. We investigate (a) how and to what extent individuals acquire the discursive contents associated with various ideologies, and (b) the social-psychological functions that these ideologies serve for those who adopt them. Our review highlights “elective affinities” between situational and dispositional needs of individuals and groups and the structure and contents of specific ideologies. Finally, we consider the consequences of ideology, especially with respect to attitudes, evaluations, and processes of system justification.