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Keywords:

  • cognition;
  • dual processing;
  • ideology;
  • knowledge;
  • politics;
  • social ontologies

The nature of social cognition—how we “know about” the social world—is one of the most deceptively obvious problems for sociology. Because we know what we know, we often think that we know how or why we know it. Here, we investigate one particular aspect of social cognition, namely, what we will call “political ideology”—that is, people’s self-placement on a dimension on which persons can be arrayed from left to right. We focus on that understanding that is in some ways the “ur-form” of social cognition—our sense of how we stand by others in an implicit social formation whose meaning is totally relational. At the same time, these self-conceptions seem to be of the greatest importance for the development of the polity and of civil society itself. Our question is, when citizens develop such a “political ideology,” what does this mean, and what do they do with it? We examine what citizens gain from their subjective placement on the dimension from liberalism to conservatism by using the results of a survey experiment that alters aspects of a hypothetical policy.