Political Culture: Definition, Theory, Types & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is a Public Culture?
  • 1:30 Theories
  • 3:02 Examples
  • 5:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mark Pearcy
In this lesson, we'll be looking at political culture, including its basic definition and different theories and types. We'll also compare America's political culture with the political cultures of other countries, after which you'll have the chance to test your understanding of the topic with a short quiz.

What is a Political Culture?

The term 'political culture' is used in the field of social science. It refers to historically-based, widely-shared beliefs, feelings, and values about the nature of political systems, which can serve as a link between citizens and government.

Different countries have different political cultures, which can help us understand how and why their governments are organized in a certain way, why democracies succeed or fail, or why some countries still have monarchies. Understanding our own political culture can also provide clues to political relationships, such as those we share with each other or our governments.

In the United States, we may be tempted to think of political culture in terms of our voting status as a Democrat or a Republican. However, it's important to understand that political culture differs from political ideology. The term 'political ideology' refers to a code of beliefs or views about governments and politics that may influence the way we vote or whether or not we support certain legislative actions.

For example, two people can share a political culture, but have different political ideologies. In other words, a right-wing conservative can be from the same political culture as a left-wing liberal. In other words, political culture is something we share, while a political ideology is something we use to define ourselves and make political decisions.

Now, let's take a brief look at some theories of political culture.

Theories

In 1963, two political scientists, Gabriel Almond and Sydney Verba, published a study of the political cultures associated with five democratic countries: Germany, Italy, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States. According to Almond and Verba, there are three basic types of political culture, which can be used to explain why people do or do not participate in political processes.

In a parochial political culture, like Mexico, citizens are mostly uninformed and unaware of their government and take little interest in the political process. In a subject political culture, such as those found in Germany and Italy, citizens are somewhat informed and aware of their government and occasionally participate in the political process. In a participant political culture, like the United Kingdom and the United States, citizens are informed and actively participate in the political process.

Other theories of political culture address how political culture takes root and is transferred from generation to generation through political socialization and include Seymour Martin Lipset's formative events theory, which describes the long-lasting effects of key events that took place when a country was founded; Louis Hartz's fragment theory, which explains the long-lasting effects of European colonization on countries and societies; and Roger Inglehart's post-materialism theory, which explains the long-lasting effects of childhood economic and social conditions.

Examples

At the beginning of the lesson, we talked about how different countries have different political cultures. For example, American political culture can be defined according to some basic and commonly shared beliefs, such as our commitment to democracy, equality, free enterprise, and individualism. Concepts related to liberty, nationalism, and reliance on a legislative body, instead of an individual ruler, are also unique to our political culture. The historical origins of our political culture can be traced to the American Revolution and the desire for liberty as well as our Puritan roots.

Some key events and programs that affected our sense of achievement and nationalistic pride include the Industrial Revolution, World Wars I and II, and the events of September 11, 2011. Government programs related to cultural beliefs in equality include President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society.

Now, let's take a brief look at the political cultures of two other countries.

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