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Ideology, Cognitive Style, and Belief Systems About Crime Among City, State and Federal Legislators

NCJ Number
J G Schuiteman
Date Published
352 pages
A total of 118 Michigan officeholders were surveyed to assess their belief systems about crime and dimensions of their ideological thought.
A literature review showed three general dimensions of ideological thought: content, emotional commitment, and cognitive style. Study subjects included 50 city councilmen, 51 State representatives, and 17 Congressmen. Each subject was interviewed on a wide variety of subjects and engaged in an open ended discussion about the causes and solutions of crime. Results indicated that the major structuring dimension in legislators' crime discussions is the dichotomy between blaming the person and blaming the system or environmental forces. Officeholders who blame the system for crime are younger, more educated, more articulate, and more liberal than those who blame individuals for their crimes. Contrary to Putnam's theory of ideological thought, cognitive style is not a consistent structuring dimension of ideological belief. The only dimension of cognitive style which emerged was the distinction between articulate, organized thinkers and inarticulate, relatively unorganized thinkers. Evidence is presented which indicates that Putnam's ideological style index is also a measure of articulation. Path analysis using 10 variables resulted in a path model suggesting that intelligence is the main variable differentiating people in terms of the various dimensions and attributes associated with ideological thought. Data also supported the propositions that (1) no one set of ideological traits can provide a consistent approach to the subject of ideology; (2) mental rigidity and authoritarianism are the product of a lack of mental ability rather than emotionalism; (3) the incidence of authoritarianism decreases as the officeholder ascends to the higher levels of government and (4) the belief that intellectuals are likely to be extreme, emotional, and rigid in their thinking is unwarranted. Tables, diagrams, footnotes, and 89 references are included. Extensive appendixes present study instruments and results. (Author abstract modified)


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