Virtual Journal of Politics and Government



The Virtual Journal of Politics and Government

Volume 1 May 1999 Tacoma, Washington



Welcome to the inaugural issue of The Virtual Journal of Politics and Government, an opus of Politics and Government 250 at the University of Puget Sound. Politics and Government 250 is a course entitled "Methods, Analysis, and Argument in Political Literature: Knowing Your Political Left from Your Political Right." You may find the syllabus at /haltom /pg250.htm.

The contributors to this initial offering are students enrolled in Politics and Government 250 in Spring Semester of 1999. Contributions were solicited by the instructor of the course in a document called "Commissioned Articles" Student-authors proposed, executed, composed, and revised projects until student-referees selected the five published below. The members of P&G 250 thank all participants in this process of submission, assessment, revision, and editing.


"Assessing Left and Right: Essays on Reliable and Valid Characterizations of Liberal and Conservative"

The title above was written by Mr. Benjamin Loomis, who was in turn inspired by Mr. Patrick Sullivan. The theme of the P&G 250 was, as that title suggests, problems in characterizing people, institutions, or other entities as "liberal," "conservative," both, or neither. Each author develops that theme in distinctive directions.

Mary Kay Davis <> critiques efforts to attribute to states in the United States of America an ideological score in "Measures of States' Political Ideology: Issues of Validity, Reliability, and Utility." Measures of states’ "ideology" have cropped up in the major journals of American political science as the work of some leading figures in the study of public opinion and attitudes. Despite (or perhaps because of) the august authority of the authors, Ms. Davis scores their measures for lack of reliability, lack of validity, and lack of utility. She concludes that, however valuable such measures might be, quantification of the ideology of a state will be vitiated by problems of conceptualization and definition, problems of data collection and inference, and the reification inherent in attributing to an entire state a mindset.

Ashley Vroman <> contributed "‘Slandering’ the News: How Labelers Cleverly Undermine the Reliability and Validity of Newspapers," which examines how "ideology" lies in the eyes of beholders of newspapers. Ms. Vroman’s thesis is straightforward: "If a newspaper is ‘assigned’ an ideology, either validity, or reliability, or both, must be sacrificed." She directly confronts a sly categorization of the Chicago Tribune as a leading liberal newspaper and shows how suspect such labeling must be. Examining editorials and presidential endorsements, Ms. Vroman contradicts this clever tactic. More generally, Ms. Vroman provides evidence and argument to show why every attempt to sort newspapers left and right will be at best problematic and at worst propaganda.

Bonnie Engle’s position is provocative and direct: "Simply stated, no liberal/conservative continuum describes the United States Congress." Ms. Engle <> evaluates the reliability and validity of attempts to array members of Congress along a single dimension and finds those attempts wanting. As a result, she proposes "Disconnecting the Continuum." Building on the repeated finding that the ideological proclivities of even modestly educated and aware citizens may be projected onto a segment or spectrum only crudely, Ms. Engle protests that attempts to reduce congresspeople to a single dimension are Procrustean. Observers who value reliability and validity will categorize congresspeople facilely unless they employ multiple dimensions.

In "Media Biases in Presidential Elections," Tessa Bennett <> debunks the notion that liberal or conservative media impart great advantages to presidential candidates. Restricting herself to presidential contests because they enjoy or suffer the most coverage, Ms. Bennett finds little evidence that mass media greatly affect voters or votes. As useful as it may be for activists to secure marginally more or better coverage by claiming that reporters and editors are siding with their opponents, the best studies do not reinforce activists’ laments. The author also argues that, even if ideologically slanted reporting were more efficacious in presidential elections than it appears to be, the professional and commercial imperatives of the news business would militate against any but minimal, transient, and occasional biases.

"Content Analysis as a Tool for Examining Media Bias" advances Ryan Sweeney’s methodological gloss on issues of ideological attribution. Mr. Sweeney’s position is simple but elegant: most characterizations of liberal-ness and conservative-ness suffer from expediency. That is, those who label media conservative or liberal habitually rely on anecdotal evidence, impressionistic information, and convenient inferences rather than data systematically collected and analyzed. Because content analysis provides established tools for enhancing the reliability and validity of assessments of bias, Mr. Sweeney <> argues that analysts should use all that there is to use and the best of what there is to use.