Political culture and ideology are closely linked, yet distinct. Political culture refers to the widely held set of beliefs held by nearly all people within a nation, state, or polity. These are the things that people tend to agree on despite other differences. For instance, in the United States, most people value the importance of democracy, individual expression, justice, and liberty. No matter how someone may vote or other beliefs that they profess, these are beliefs are generally shared and make up an integral part of the political identity of the people.
Political ideology tends to be more specific than political culture. Whereas political culture represents similarities, political ideology tends to highlight differences. People are likely to identify themselves with a particular ideology. This can be conservative, liberal, socialist, libertarian, progressive, anarchist, nihilist, etc. Some ideologies are closely aligned with each other, while others are very different. It is possible for people of many different political ideologies to share the same political culture. For instance, conservatives and progressives share the cultural beliefs that individual liberties are important to protect and that all people are entitled to justice under the law. However, the details of how liberty and justice are applied and the role of the government in assuring it will differ.
A political culture represents the long-term beliefs that most of the people within a country share. In the United States, free speech and a free press are valued. Americans want responsive leaders who will do what they say; if these leaders do not, American voters threaten to replace them. Americans value having timely, orderly, and transparent elections.
Political ideologies shift over time. These represent the differences between political parties and the talking points they use to bring people out to the polls on their behalf. One line of thinking states that government should be involved heavily in the private sector, while another party wants the least amount of government interference possible. Both major parties in the United States differ according to fiscal policy, immigration, and to what extent the government should be involved in everyday life. Political ideologies shift according to trends in American society and politics. Republicans used a foreign policy that dictated staying out of most foreign affairs during the 1930s; currently, many Republicans take a more interventionist approach. Many people identify with political ideologies, and they use these associations to back candidates, even if they do not agree with everything the candidate says.
A nation’s political culture is formed over many years, and sometimes many generations. How this culture develops depends on many factors. In the United States, political culture is inextricably linked to its origin as a nation of fiercely independent and largely self-sufficient individuals. We see the long term effects of this culture in day-to-day life in the United States when we see the expression of widely divergent points of view, which then generate protests, and sometimes even violence. Free speech is a valued right in the United States, and because of our political culture, we are willing to tolerate the unpleasant consequences that sometimes accompany it.
Political ideology can shift and change form more easily than political culture. People cannot willingly change their political culture—it is what it is. But political ideologies shift with every election cycle. Look at how often Republicans lose power to Democrats, only to gain it back again in the next election cycle. Sometimes new ideologies arise—for example, look at Donald Trump’s victory in the most recent American presidential election. That was something that few people envisioned and something that probably would not have happened in any other election in recent American history. But Trump found a way to fashion a political ideology that appealed to part of the American political culture that was not being satisfied by the traditional Republican and Democratic parties.
Political culture and political ideology are two different ideas. Political culture is more of a general concept. It focuses on values, attitudes, and ideas that many people have about the government of a country. We believe our leaders should be elected as a result of a democratic process. In our country, we believe in the concept of a democratic republic as the way our leaders should represent us. Most people, regardless of their political ideology, support these ideas.
Political ideology is much more specific and may lead to disagreements between people and political parties. The Democratic Party has a political ideology that is very different than the political ideology of the Republican Party. The Democratic Party believes the government should have a larger and more active role in society. They believe there should be many government programs or agencies to help the needy and to regulate the actions of businesses. The Republican Party believes the government should have a more limited role in our lives. They want taxes to be lower, and they want fewer government regulations on businesses. These ideologies are very different, and they clearly mark the differences between the political parties. There is a significant difference between political culture and political ideology.
Political culture is a broader and more basic thing that political ideology. For example, just about everyone in the US shares a political culture. Our political culture is democratic and tolerant. We all believe in democracy and the right of everyone to be heard. So political culture is sort of our deepest attitudes towards how the system should work.
Political ideology is the more divisive thing. It is our set of attitudes about what the government (which we all agree should be democratic) should do. The two dominant ideologies in the US right now are liberal and conservative.