Reading: Social Sciences Sample Passage and Items

Sample Passage 1: Social Sciences

If we are to understand the politics of a nation, we must understand the issues people care about and the underlying images of the good society and how to achieve it that shape their opinions. Citizens in different nations differ as to the importance they attach to various policy outcomes. In some societies private property is highly valued, in others communal possessions are the rule. Some goods are valued by nearly everyone, such as material welfare, but societies differ nevertheless: some emphasize equality and minimum standards for all, while others emphasize the opportunity to move up the economic ladder. Some cultures put more weight on welfare and security, others value liberty and procedural justice. Moreover, the combination of learned values, strategies, and social conditions will lead to quite different perceptions about how to achieve desired social outcomes. One study showed that 73 percent of the Italian Parliament strongly agreed that a government wanting to help the poor would have to take from the rich in order to do it. Only 12 percent of the British Parliament took the same strong position, and half disagreed with the idea that redistribution was laden with conflict. Similarly, citizens and leaders in preindustrial nations disagree about the mixture of government regulation and direct government investment in the economy necessary for economic growth.

Political cultures may be consensual or conflictual on issues of public policy and on their views of legitimate governmental and political arrangements. In a consensual political culture citizens tend to agree on the appropriate means of making decisions and tend to share views of what the major problems of the society are and how to solve these. In more conflictual cultures the citizens are sharply divided, often on both the legitimacy of the regime and solutions to major problems. In several recent studies of citizens' attitudes in industrial societies, respondents in different countries were asked to locate their political positions on a ten-point scale ranging from extreme left to extreme right.

Figure 1
of Left-Right Distributions of Opinion in Five Countries: Citizens' Self-Placement in the Mid-1970s