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Knowledge Gaps, Belief Gaps, Ideology, and Culture Wars

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DOI: 10.4236/ojps.2013.34017    2,900 Downloads   6,020 Views   Citations
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Ideological and partisan fissures increasingly divide the United States into opposing factions. This article discusses a theoretical framework for research on knowledge and belief gaps in order to better understand increasing gulfs between conservatives and liberals. The perspective develops from “knowledge gap” research (Tichenor, Donohue, & Olien, 1970), a “belief-knowledge gap” hypothesis (Gaziano & Gaziano, 1999, 2009), and Hindman’s “belief gap” research (2009, 2012). Hindman distinguished between knowledge as empirically observed by scientists and beliefs or views accepted without an empirical foundation, frequently based on religious faith. He, like Gaziano and Gaziano, considered knowledge to be socially constructed. The Gaziano and Gaziano perspective treats knowledge as a form of belief and ideology as a multifaceted concept, maintaining that social and political groups differ in personality, values, moral foundations, attitudes, reasoning styles, conceptions of power relations, and even neurological and genetic make-up. This helps to explain why conservatives and liberals can appear to be two cultures. Their level of analysis is collective, rather than individual, a main tenet is that beliefs are knowledge, and the unit of analysis is “belief-knowledge” differences between ideological segments of social subsystems. This perspective advocates approaching ideology from a viewpoint of understanding differences. One can begin to frame solutions to ideological conflicts by accepting the other side as valid, by trying to understand the differences, and by appealing to the other cultural groups’ values, conceptual systems, mores, and social life. An important question is how the interests and beliefs of conservatives and liberals, as well as moderates, can be addressed to improve social and political system functioning instead of driving them further apart. The article proposes hypotheses and research questions for future research.

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Gaziano, C. (2013) Knowledge Gaps, Belief Gaps, Ideology, and Culture Wars. Open Journal of Political Science, 3, 116-130. doi: 10.4236/ojps.2013.34017.


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