When I taught basic American Government to college students, I assigned them to explain their ideology to me. I got so exasperated with people who would insist it was irrelevant and that they “vote for the person not the party.” I docked them points because I’d told them not to make that claim beforehand. I also remarked, “I didn’t ask who you vote for, I ask you what your ideology is.”

Ideology defines what role you think government should play in society and in the lives of individuals.

Think back, okay maybe way back, to high school history and the term “laissez faire.” This is a French term. The term described the attitude people had before, and during, the Great Depression. The attitude was that government should not do anything about the economy. It wasn’t its responsibility, so to speak. Obviously, that attitude has changed. Since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s time period, the government has been involved in the economy. We now think government does have a responsibility to manage the economy.

What is important for our purposes in examining ideology is identifying what we think government should and should not be involved with, what it has a responsibility for.

Unfortunately, we assign just about every problem to government now. If great-aunt Gertrude has a hangnail, then the government should do something.

This wasn’t always the case. So, if we are to understand ideology, we have to look at the degree of responsibility we assign to government.

For example, nowadays, people differ on how much the government should be involved in the economy, not whether it should be.

In general, Democrats prefer government play a larger role in society than Republicans. Republicans assign more responsibility to business, non-profits (like churches) and individuals.

In general, Democrats prefer that the federal government play a larger role in society than the states and localities. Republicans are much more likely to assign responsibilities to the states and local governments than the federal government.

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