Political culture refers to what people believe and feel about government, and how they think people should act towards it. To understand the relationship of a government to its people, and how those people are going to act toward that government and others, it is necessary to study what those people believe about themselves and government. Daniel Elazar, from whom much of the information below has been taken, has defined it as: "the particular pattern of orientation to political action in which each political system is imbedded." A more simple definition is: "Attitudes, values, beliefs, and orientations that individuals in a society hold regarding their political system."
Elazar found three political-culture types among Americans. These types are still viewed as relevant today. The following are his types and maps of where he found the types to exist.
|Moral Political Culture
Moral Political Culture. In this culture type society is held to be more important than the individual. Individualism is not submerged in any way, but the group recognizes the need of individuals to assign value to the group. Government tends to be seen as a positive force. This emphasizes the commonwealth conception as the basis for democratic government. Politics is considered one of the great activities of man in the search for the "good society." Good government is measured by the degree to which it promotes the public good. Issues have an important place in the moralistic style of politics. Politicians are expected not to profit from political activity. Serving the community is the core of the political relationship even at the expense of individual loyalties and political friendships. In practice this often results in more amateur participation in politics than in the other political cultures. Upper New England, the Upper Middle West and portions of the west are the central areas for this culture type.
|Individual Political Culture
Individual Political Culture. In areas with this type of political culture, government is seen as having a very practical orientation. Government is instituted for largely utilitarian reasons. It need not have any direct concern with questions of the "good society." Emphasis on on limiting community/government intervention into private activities. Government should be largely restricted to those areas which encourage private initiative. Private concerns are more important than public concerns here. To a significant degree there is cynicism about government. Dirty politics tends be accepted as a fact. The key to understanding this type is that people accept dirty politics as the way things are and should be. The Middle-Atlantic States through Illinois, and to the West, is the area most prevalent for this type of culture.
|Traditional Political Culture
Traditional Political Culture. Social and family ties are prominent where this type of political culture is found. This often means that some families run the government and others have little to say about it. This reflects an older attitude that embraces a hierarchical society as part of the natural order of things. Government is seen as an actor with a positive role in the community, but the role is largely limited to securing the maintenance of the existing social order. Political leaders play a largely conservative and custodial role rather than being innovative. Otherwise, limited government is viewed as best because that is all that is required to meet the needs of those in power. The South is the regional focus for this type of culture. While undergoing change, traditional southern politics have been dominated by "backdoor" arrangements and strict class divisions.
Mayville State University Web Site
Elazar, Daniel J. 1972 (2nd edition). American Federalism: A view from the states. New York:
Thomas Y. Crowell.
Elazar, Daniel J. 1970. Cities of the Prairie: the metropolitan frontier
and American politics
and American politics