What Is Wrong with Politcs? (3): Differences of Capabilities Among Human Beings


The Studies of Philip E. Converse
Breadth Levels in Political Understanding
The Differences: Constraint Quantification in Belief Systems
The Differences: Elements of Greater Centrality
The Differences: Organizational Role of Abstract Concepts
The Differences: Breadth Levels in Converse’s Categories
Level I: Ideologues
Level II: Near-Ideologues
Level III: “Group Interest”
Level IV: “Nature of the Times”
Level V: “Without Typically Political Content”
The Utilized Survey
The Profile of the Breadth Levels in USA
The Influence of the Material Environment
The Characteristics of the Different Breadth Levels
Quantity of Information About Politics
Grades of Interest in Politics
– Would You Vote If Not Compulsory?
Knowledge About Direct Elections
Knowledge About Left and Right in Politics
The Differences Between USA and Brazil (Porto Alegre)
The Decisive Role of the Elites
The Actuality of the Data

Let us now proceed to a scientific examination of this second fundamental aspect of humanity, which is that of the great diversity of capacities among individuals. We will deal with this issue with the help of information mainly from political science, which reveal the profile of the different breadth levels of the population’s social awareness.

The great advances in the area of ​​computers, from the middle of the 20th century, allowed a much greater facility in carrying out sample surveys covering large populations, or even entire nations with many millions of inhabitants, like the USA. Thus, research aimed at obtaining a precise and empirical basis (based on information obtained through field research) regarding the ideational reality and the social awareness of the population began to be carried out regularly in several places, especially in centers linked to large universities. One such center, perhaps the one with the most experience and the most international prestige, is the “Survey Research Center” linked to the Institute of Social Research at the University of Michigan, USA.

The Studies of Philip E. Converse

A well-known researcher, who worked for several years at this Center, is Philip E. Converse, who, together with three other colleagues, published in 1960 a work which became a classic in the area called The American Voter. USA). Philip Converse and his colleagues have several works in this field of research. Two of Converse’s well-known texts are The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics, 1964, and Public Opinion and Voting Behavior, 1975, the first of which also had become a classic in the area.

In these works, Converse and his colleagues present us with a very precise profile of some of the main characteristics of the social grasp of the American population as a whole. These works stimulated similar research in other countries, such as Political Experience and Electoral Politics in Brazil, 1977, PhD dissertation (Connecticut), by Judson M. De Cew Jr., or my own master’s dissertation (UFRGS), The Political Consciousness in Mass Publics, 1984, and also Political Representation in France (1986), by Philip Converse in partnership with Roy Pierce.

In this chapter we will use some theoretical aspects of these works, such as the well-known typology (classification categories) regarding the levels of conceptual coverage in the population, employed by Philip Converse and his Michigan’s colleagues. Regarding the empirical data, we will mainly use data extracted in most of these works, and my master’s dissertation, in which I was particularly concerned with specifying and detailing the differences between the levels of conceptual coverage of Michigan typology when applied to the Brazilian reality, and comparing the data resulting from this research with similar data from the USA.

The comparative examination of data related to a central (rich, or “developed”) country, such as the USA, with data about a peripheral (relatively poor, or so-called “developing”) country such as Brazil, will contribute to offer us a more complete view of humanity as a whole, especially in view of the fact that two thirds of the world population are in peripheral countries (poor, also called “underdeveloped”).

Breadth Levels in Political Understanding

Through the examination of these empirical data, we will seek, on the one hand, to corroborate and, on the other hand, to give greater reasoning and also quantitative precision to the aspect of diversity inherent to the conception of humanity that we seek to present.

We are particularly interested in the differences between the levels of political and social grasp found, on the one hand, in that part of the population that we can call “elite”, that is, the most intellectual portion of the population, and on the other hand , in the bulk of the population, which we can call “mass”, which falls within the sphere of influence of the “elite”, as will be shown in the light of the data that we will examine in this chapter.

It is a fact well known by public opinion research institutes, or by advertising agencies that work with different segments of the population, and it was very well captured in the pioneering works of Philip Converse and his colleagues, that the differentials existing between the quantities of information captured by elite individuals and the mass in general is simply impressive. Within a global sample of the population, these amounts range from a very large number of well-organized information at the level of the “elite”, to very small portions among individuals of lesser grasp (comprehension or understanding) of social facts and reality.

Based on data from surveys (sample surveys) applied to the North American population as a whole, Philip Converse reveals in his texts that many important facts are observed as one descends on this scale of information covered by individuals.

The Differences: Constraint Quantification in Belief Systems

First, the data from Philip Converse’s research shows that understanding, albeit generic, about the main, and most common, political-ideological currents quickly disappears in the population’s belief systems. To have an initial idea, this understanding fades even before reaching 10% of the American population, that is, the percentage of those who had a university degree in the early 1960s. And that, since then, an increasing number of important information is missing, resulting in an increasing decline in what Converse called “constraint” between the different elements, information or ideas, that make up the belief systems of individuals.

In addition, this research demonstrates that the breadth of these belief systems is becoming smaller and smaller and that, instead of large amounts of well-organized information at the level of the “elite”, we soon start to “find a proliferation of clusters of ideas among which little interrelationship is felt, even, often, in cases of purely logical interrelationship.” (Converse, 1964, p. 213)

Regarding this concept of “constraint” (interrelationship) Converse clarifies that:

“In the static case, the “constraint” can be taken to mean the success that we would have in predicting, given the prior knowledge that an individual supports a certain attitude, that he will support certain other ideas and attitudes. We implicitly depend on such a notion of interrelation when judging, for example, that if a person is opposed to the expansion of social benefits, that he is probably conservative and that he is also opposed to any nationalization of private industries, federal education aid, tax strongly progressive income, and so on. Most discussions about ideologies make use of relatively elaborate assumptions about such constraints. Constraint must, of course, be treated as a matter of degree, and this can be easily measured, at least as an average between individuals.

In the dynamic case, “constraint”, “interrelationship” or “interdependence” refers to the probability that a change in the perceived status (truth, desirability, etc.) of an element or idea would require, psychologically, from the individual’s point of view, some compensatory change in the status of other elements or ideas in other parts of that individual’s belief system configuration.” (idem, p. 207)

The Differences: Elements of Greater Centrality

On the other hand, the character of the objects of greater centrality in the belief systems of individuals also undergoes notable and systematic changes when we descend in the referred scale of quantity of information. These more central objects change, according to Philip Converse, from “remote, generic and abstract to increasingly simple, concrete, or “close to home”.” (idem, p. 213) This change, in terms of content of greater centrality, tends to occur, for example, of abstract ideological principles for the most well-known groups or social categories (social class, economic category, religion, etc.). And from these groups to charismatic leaders and, finally, to themes of the immediate experience of individuals, such as family, work and friendships.

As we said, most of these changes are generally well known, as are characteristics of the ideational world of individuals with lower income and/or education, such as the predominance of concrete thinking and short-term temporal perspectives. However, Philip Converse goes beyond this generic knowledge by pointing out that:

“(…) most things in politics particularly those that unfold on national and international stages are, by their very nature, distant and abstract. With regard to politics, therefore, such ideational changes begin to occur just below the extremely thin strata of the population of those who have already had the opportunity to make public statements on political issues. In other words, the changes in the belief systems we speak of are not a pathology limited to a thin and disoriented layer of miserable and marginalized people; they are immediately relevant to understanding the bulk of the mass political behavior.

It is this last fact that seems to be repeatedly misunderstood by sophisticated analysts who comment, in one way or another, on the meaning of mass politics.” (idem, p. 213)

The Differences: Organizational Role of Abstract Concepts

Based on fundamental observations like the one above, Converse tried to examine more closely the reality of the profile of these breadth changes in the social-political grasp (awareness, understanding) of the population in general.

The careful study of the interviews brought by the surveys (sample surveys) which included both closed questions (with previously structured answers) and a large number of open questions (with the possibility of totally free answers by the interviewees) revealed to these researchers that the amount and organization of information covered by different individuals in their belief systems are closely related to what they have called “ideological dimensions of evaluation”.

That is, that certain abstract ideas function as organizing concepts that allow the interrelation between the elements and sets of information in a belief system, and allow the individual, in the words of Philip Converse, to “locate and make sense of a more wide range of information on a particular domain than would be possible without such an organization.” (idem, p. 214)

An example of this type of ideological dimensions of evaluation, which is widely used in the USA, and which is very useful for synthesizing and organizing events and information not only in the USA, but in many countries, is given to us by the concepts of “liberal” and “conservative”. In Brazil, as well as in many other countries, this “liberal-conservative” classification is often replaced by “progressive-conservative” or even by the “left-right” classification, which we will address later on when examining the empirical data.

Converse notes that these ideological dimensions of assessment are not only used by individuals for the internal economy of their belief systems, but that they are also frequently used by analysts who use them to characterize events and even to classify attitudes of the population as a whole.

In view of this, Converse draws attention to the fact that dimensions of evaluation of this nature constitute high-order abstractions if we consider the population as a whole and that “such abstractions are not typical conceptual tools of the “man in the street”.” (idem, p. 215)

More than that, that the portion of the population that dominates and uses such ideological dimensions of evaluation constitutes a small minority, as we will soon see when examining the empirical data.

The Differences: Breadth Levels in Converse’s Categories

Based on these findings, Philip Converse and his colleagues were concerned with defining some categories that could reveal, with a certain precision, the profile of these ideational changes in the population. In this regard, Converse reports that:

“Examination of the interviews themselves suggested several strata of classification, which were hierarchically ordered as “levels of conceptualization” based on previous assessments of the scope of the contextual apprehension of the political system that each strata seemed to represent.” (idem, p. 215)

These strata, then, constituted the type of analysis that will be described below, which was widely used in the works mentioned above, and which will be our main instrument for the empirical verification of the aspect of differences within humanity, as well as to give to this understanding greater precision and detailing.

Level I: Ideologues

First, constituting the highest level of conceptual coverage, interviewees were selected who, in the words of Philip Converse:

“(…) in fact they relied in some active way on relatively abstract and far-reaching conceptual dimensions as a measure by which political-social objects and their variable meanings over time were assessed. This first stratum was, with some freedom, called an “ideologue”.” (idem, p. 216)

Level II: Near-Ideologues

In the second stratum of this classification were selected:

“(…) those interviewees who mentioned such dimensions of evaluation in a peripheral way, but who did not seem to depend much on them in evaluative terms, or who used such concepts in a way that left doubts about the breadth of their understanding regarding the meaning of the term. This second stratum was called “quasi-ideologue”.” (idem, p. 216)

Level III: “Group Interest”

Those interviewed who did not use any of these broad dimensions were classified in the third stratum, even though they evaluated social, political or economic actions, as well as parties and candidates in terms of their repercussions and relations with the social groups with which they identify, such like economic, religious, racial categories and so on. In view of this, this level was called “group interest”, and the more sophisticated individuals in this stratum “demonstrated an awareness of the existence of a conflict between “large companies” or “wealthy”, on the one hand, and “work” or “workers” of another, the parties and candidates being situated in that perspective.” (idem, p. 216)

The characteristics of this third stratum may, at first sight, generate some confusion in relation to the differences between this level of conceptualization and the first more ideological ones, in view of the argument that this conflict between large social groups, especially between “big capital” and “workers”, is constituted, according to certain theoretical perspectives, at the heart of the ideological question.

However, regardless of the theoretical merit of these ideological perspectives, the differences between these strata are quite striking. An example of these striking differences concerns the fact that unless an issue is related in an almost obviously punitive or rewarding way in relation to the interests of the groups with which individuals in this stratum identify themselves “they lack the contextual understanding of the social-political system to understand how they should answer these questions without being informed by the elites who enjoy their trust.” (Converse, idem, p. 216)

Furthermore, their interest in relatively wide-ranging questions is not strong enough to pay much attention to the information related to those questions, and if they do not receive such communications “knowledge of their group affiliations may be of little use in predicting their responses. (idem, p. 216) Philip Converse clarifies, however, that this lack of communication regarding this information is not very common. In view of this, he called the typical behavior of individuals in this stratum “proxy ideology”.

Level IV: “Nature of the Times”

The fourth stratum of classification was largely defined in a residual way. In it were selected the interviewees who made social-political considerations of some kind or another in their evaluations, but who did not use arguments or attitudes that could be classified in any of the previous strata.

This stratum was called the “nature of the times” because the main modes of evaluation in this category concern a relationship between social, political or economic events, as well as parties and candidates, with general social-economic moments or states of depression or prosperity.

Another main mode of evaluation that is also characteristic of the individuals selected in this group is the relationship of events, parties, etc., with particular issues for which they feel gratitude or personal indignation, with no indication that they see them as representative of ideological stances, or even as being related to broader social groups.

Level V: “Without Typically Political Content”

Finally, the fifth stratum framed those individuals whose assessments of the social-political scenario had no relation to typically political issues, and for this reason are called “without typically political content” or, to put it simply, “without political content”. Among the individuals selected in this stratum, some even declared sympathy for some party, but without knowing anything about their ideological positions, or even more concrete issues that could characterize their program or platform.

Typical examples of this stratum are individuals who in the electoral processes are guided purely by the personal qualities of the candidates, often by very unique qualities such as physical beauty, voice, friendliness, popularity or even the sports club with which the candidate is related, or things like that. Still selected in this stratum, of course, were all interviewees who declared that they paid so little attention to political issues that they did not feel able to say anything about political platforms, or even about parties and candidates.

The Utilized Survey

Before going into the examination of the empirical data, it seems appropriate to comment on the statistical rigor of the works cited, from which we obtained most of the data that will be examined below. First, it should be noted that the sampling techniques employed in these studies are extraordinarily reliable, certainly examples of the best in statistical sampling, and that the results obtained for many variables that are also accompanied by demographic censuses (research of all individuals making up a population) were compared to each other. The profile obtained by the samples has always been very similar to that of the census. An example of these comparisons is given below in relation to the variable “religion of Porto Alegre’s population” taken from my master’s dissertation:

Religion In the Census (1980) In Research (1982)
Catholics 83% 79%
Protestants 6 8
Umbandists 3 4
Spiritists 2 3
Others 2 2
Without religion 4 4

Other comparisons of this type, as well as a detailed description of the rigorous sampling methodologies used, can be found in this master’s dissertation. It is certainly difficult for people who are not familiar with studies such as those cited to assess how precisely the questionnaires applied investigate the attitudes and reach of the political grasp of the interviewees, both in relation to the social-political system as a whole, and in relation to many other more specific issues.

These are not quick studies with half a dozen closed questions, as they are often carried out by institutes dedicated to assessing various aspects of public opinion. These are studies whose questionnaires include many open questions, and which are applied by people trained to carry out these interviews.

Let us then proceed to examine the selected empirical data, which is only a small part of the large amount of data presented in the works mentioned. These works, in turn, also had to select a small portion from the totality of the relevant raw data generated by the utilized sample surveys.

The Profile of the Breadth Levels in USA

The distribution of the North American population within the five strata or levels of conceptual breadth resulting from the research by Converse and his colleagues, which appears in the mentioned publications published in 1960 and 1964 (which have become classics in this area of ​​studies), is found in the table shown below:

– Distribution of Total Electoral Population and Voters in the USA, by Levels of Conceptual Breadth (the distinction between total population and voters is due to the fact that voting is not mandatory in the US; mandatory voting is a practice used in some countries, usually in the Third World, like Brazil).

Levels Total population Voters
(1) Ideologues 2.5% 3.5%
(2) Near-Ideologues 9 12
(3) Group Interest 42 45
(4) Nature of the Times 24 22
(5) No Political Content 22.5 17.5

A fuller understanding of the enormous theoretical and practical relevance of the data revealed by this chart may only be possible after examining the set of other data that we will examine later. Or, even, only after the analysis of the next chapters about the importance of the premises about human beings presented here, that is, their relevance for the solution of the serious problems faced by humanity.

Even so, if we just take into account that this is a distribution that reveals the profile of the reach of the political grasp of the USA’s population which is one of the richest nations on the planet and that the poorest nations will certainly present a much more charged distribution in the lower political grasp strata (as we will see for the case of Brazil), then, only this first glimpse already shows us that only a small portion of the population has a relatively high level of information and of abstract conceptual grasp.

This simple fact means a very strong corroboration about the existence of great differences in breadth in the understanding of social reality between different strata of the population as a whole.

We saw, in the previous table, that only 2.5% of the North American population can be considered as having a reasonable level of understanding about the main currents of social-political thought, or about major political issues of national and international scope.

Anyone who knows these surveys, knows very well that these results are not exaggerated, for greater or lesser. As someone who participated both in the design of questions, as in the application and processing of questionnaires, I can say that such results reflect the best in sample studies, as well as seriousness and rigorous classifications. In addition, the results of several surveys reveal that the percentages, even of the smallest group, of “Ideologues” and “Near-Ideologues”, are not susceptible to very significant errors. However, even if these surveys, of the greatest seriousness and quantitative precision, were very wrong, and that, for example, the percentage of “ideologues” was doubled to 5%, or even quadrupled to 10% (which already constitutes a absurd result), that will not radically change the general perspective of these empirical researches.

Therefore, these data on the levels of conceptualization of the USA’s population are very illustrative and instructive from the beginning. According to Philip Converse, the data in this picture should be “contrasted with the usual supposition of the elite that a significant majority of the public apprehends the main aspects of social-political reality in a similar way to the most highly educated.” (Converse, 1964, p. 218)

These data must also be contrasted with the theories that assume that these ideational differences can be substantially transformed with relative ease. We refer, above all, to the Marxist conception to which human consciousness is a mere product of the historical and material circumstances to which it is subjected. Now, these data, in the case of a country like the USA, of the most opulent and with an educational system that covers practically the entire population, are revealing of how these ideational transformations do not occur in the manner and with the determinism that this current of thought believes.

The Influence of the Material Environment

Although we have no empirical data on the ideational reality of the population of the Soviet Union (now extinct), it is not difficult to say that this reality would under no circumstances be better than that of the USA’s population. This is after seven decades of a Marxist-inspired political-economic organization. Now, there can be no better historical demonstration than that regarding the fact that great ideational changes in the mass are very slow temporal processes.

With this, we are not trying to deny that material circumstances have a significant influence on the development of human consciousness. It is a matter of affirming that there are other psycho-social factors that underlie the great differences in conceptual grasp that we observe in the population, and that materialistic thinkers do not usually consider them properly. And also that, in relation to these great ideational differences, these other psycho-social factors are the main ones, no matter how little they may be scientifically known.

It is worth recalling in this regard the biblical parable of the sower, previously mentioned. If the seed falls on rocks or in shallow soil, it cannot develop favorably. This concerns, of course, the undeniable influence of the material environment. However, even among those who fall into fertile and deep land, some will bear fruit thirty to one, others sixty to one, and still others to one hundred to one.

That is, even when the conditions of the material environment are very good for everyone and, of course, we must fight for that condition – there are still psychological factors (or intrinsic to the latent qualities of the seed, which symbolizes the psycho-spiritual reality of the human being) that would imply the manifestation of great differences in capabilities, especially intellectual and ethical-moral (intellect here meaning the ability to see with depth and breadth (which is the etymological meaning of that word: – inter legere: to read inside, or deeply), among the members of the human collectivity.

The Characteristics of the Different Breadth Levels

Before examining data on the percentage of each of these levels in Brazil, we will analyze some tables that aim to show, more clearly, the profile of ideational differences (in terms of the breadth of the social-political grasp, and the amount of information about this reality) between the five classification categories defined by Converse and his colleagues, which were described above. These tables are just a few of the several presented in my dissertation, mentioned above, which dealt specifically about these ideational differences.

The field research that generated the raw data for this dissertation was carried out simultaneously in several Brazilian capitals. It was developed and applied by researchers from a group of the main universities in that country. The data that we will present below refer to Porto Alegre, and there the raw data were generated by UFRGS (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul).

The levels of conceptual coverage of Converse appear, for space saver, only as Roman numerals, from I to V; in order from highest to lowest conceptual breadth. That is: (I) Ideologues; (II) Near-ideologues; (III) Group Interest; (IV) Nature of the Times; (V) No Political Content.

Quantity of Information About Politics

The first table below shows us, in percentage terms, the frequency with which individuals from each of these five levels of coverage usually read, in newspapers, news about politics:

Levels Frequently On occasion Never reads about politics
(I) 100% 0% 0%
(II) 81 19 0
(III) 58 26 16
(IV) 29 30 41
(V) 7 23 70

This first table is already a very clear indicator regarding the degree of interest and information about the social-political reality in the strata of the different breadth levels of conceptual grasp in the population. These percentages clearly show the rapid decline in this interest and the amount of information, as we move down the scale of conceptual grasp. They confirm what Converse called “sharp and monotonic decline”, in the following quote:

“The classification of the levels carried out on a somewhat prior basis was corroborated by additional analyzes, which demonstrated that independent measures of political information, education and political interest, all showed sharp and monotonic decline as the levels descended in the suggested order.” (Converse, 1964, p. 217; emphasis added)

The percentages, of course, are relative to each of the levels, and this gives the data of this and the following tables a relevance that practically does not depend on the place where they were researched. They concern the characteristics of each stratum and, for that same reason, they are very good approximations to reveal the profile of each of these strata anywhere in the world. For this reason too, they are so revealing about the differences within humanity. What will change appreciably between the different countries will be the relative percentage of each of the strata within the population as a whole, as we will see later when comparing data from the USA with data from Porto Alegre.

Grades of Interest in Politics

The “sharp and monotonic decline” is even more graphic when we examine the following table, which shows the answers obtained for a direct question:

– “In general, are you interested in politics?”

Levels Much Little Not interested
(I) 89% 11% 0%
(II) 41 47 12
(III) 23 55 22
(IV) 7 43 50
(V) 2 12 86

Few tables can be more enlightening than the one above, regarding the profile of the existing differences of social-political grasp (or awareness) within the population as a whole.

If we add the data from the columns of those who declared they have little interest in the political reality of their country, with the data from those who answered that they have no interest in it, the growth of disinterest in these questions that generally, as Converse said, are far reaching and abstract, grows very sharply from 11% among Ideologues, to 59% among Near-Ideologues, 77% at the “Group Interest” level, 93% at the “Nature of the Times” level and, finally, 98% at the “No Typically Political Content” level.

Would You Vote If Not Compulsory?

The following is another telling table, as it shows the answers to the question of whether the person would vote even if voting was not mandatory. It is worth clarifying to a reader from outside Brazil that in our country voting is mandatory, as a tax that the citizen must compulsorily collect. Being subject to a fine and other sanctions if you fail with this legal obligation.

Levels Yes, I would vote I wouldn’t vote
(I) 100% 0%
(II) 97 3
(III) 82 18
(IV) 65 35
(V) 34 66

It is almost needless to say that this practice of compulsory voting is very harmful for the country. It further disqualifies the electorate, which, even without it, is already tremendously disqualified when it comes to comprehensive issues, as these tables are clearly showing. This issue of mandatory voting is already a good example, among many others that we will later examine, of problems that have their origin in the absence of a correct perspective on the main characteristics of the levels of conceptual breadth in humanity.

However, it should come as no surprise that the mandatory vote is defended for such a long time, either by the right-wing elite or by the left-wing elite in that country. These currents of thought do not understand and deny the perspective on the human capabilities that we are presenting. We can admit that in some cases the mandatory vote was defended by selfish cunning, but, it seems, in the vast majority of cases, this support is due to the bias imposed by the fundamental principles of the dominant currents of thought, as well as the consequent ignorance of its harmful effects.

Knowledge About Direct Elections

Another table that reveals the limits of the breadth of the mass comprehension of social-political events is the following, which tabulates the answers to the question:

– “This year we are going to have direct elections for governor. Could you tell me what you mean by direct election?”

Levels Right answer Wrong answer and don’t know
(I) 100% 0%
(II) 78 22
(III) 57 43
(IV) 50 50
(V) 26 74

In 1982 we were in Brazil in the middle of the so-called “political opening”. A period of transition between the order of authoritarianism or military dictatorship to the liberal-democratic order, and until then the governors of the states were not elected by direct vote.

That year, for the first time after the military regime, governors would be directly elected. It was, therefore, a political fact of the greatest notoriety and importance within the political framework of the nation. Nevertheless, the numbers in this table show that a large part of the population fails to be informed even on a politically issue as trivial as this one.

If we add up all those who declared they did not know with those who risked to answer, but gave a wrong answer, we reached a percentage of 46% of the electoral population, against the 54% who answered correctly. Almost half of the voting population did not have such basic information!

Knowledge About Left and Right in Politics

Naturally, when the question is more abstract, the total number of those who are unaware is even greater. This is what we can see in the following table with the data on the issue:

– “What do you mean by left and right in politics?”

Levels Right answer Wrong answer/don’t know
(I) 100% 0%
(II) 97 3
(III) 75 25
(IV) 30 70
(V) 9 91

In the case of this question, adding up all those who declared they did not know with those who gave a wrong answer, we reached a percentage of 61% of the population. Therefore, only 39% had this type of information in 1982 in Porto Alegre, which is one of the capitals with the best schooling rates in Brazil. It is important to note the differences that appear in this table between the data in groups I, II and III, in relation to groups IV and V. While in groups I and II almost nobody is unaware of what is left and right in politics, in group III still only 25% are unaware. But the situation is completely different from group IV where 70% are unaware, or in group V where 91% are unaware.

The Differences Between USA and Brazil (Porto Alegre)

This great difference between these first three groups and the last two is very important for us to have a realistic profile of the breadth of the population’s social-political grasp (or awareness). This allows us to understand, for example, why in rich countries the population seems to have a much higher degree of rationality than in countries like Brazil.

It turns out that in these countries voting is not mandatory, and we have already seen that under these conditions the groups in which a large percentage will not vote are only groups IV and V. If we add to this the fact that in these countries the proportion of the first three groups is significantly larger, especially the third, that of “Group Interest”, as we can see in the comparison of the following table, so we will clearly understand why in rich countries, such as the USA, the electoral behavior and, consequently, the electoral results present a greater rationality.

We are not intending to claim that the mere institute of compulsory voting is the main cause of all our problems. Not at all! We are only taking this fact to exemplify that the perspective presented here, which takes into account the essential unity of human beings, as well as their great differences in capabilities, allows us to have a much clearer view of the social-political reality of nations.

Let us see, then, the profile of the distribution of the electorate of Porto Alegre within these five groups of conceptual breadth. To facilitate comparisons, we will repeat in this table the data relating to the USA’s population, previously presented:

Levels In the United States In Brazil (Porto Alegre)
Ideologues 2.5% 2 %
Near-Ideologues 9 8
Group Interest 42 21.5
Nature of the Times 24 31.5
No Political Content 22.5 37

Before examining the numbers in this chart, we need to comment on two aspects. First, it should be noted that the data for the USA published by Converse and his colleagues (1960), and by Converse (1964) relate to the beginning of the 1960s. The data of my dissertation (1984), on the other hand, refer to the beginning of the eighties (1982). This difference over a period of more than two decades may slightly change the situation in favor of Brazil. In other words, in 1982 the distribution of breadth levels in the USA could be a little better, due to greater schooling, improvements in communications, etc.

The second observation is that the figures for Porto Alegre are certainly better than the figures for a distribution of these groups for Brazil as a whole. The analysis of other researches from different sources allows us to estimate that the numbers for Porto Alegre should be similar to those of other large Brazilian capitals, such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte etc., and that the situation in these capitals is significantly better than than the situation in Brazil as a whole.

Take, for example, just one piece of information in this regard. In 1986, the year in which a Constituent Assembly was elected in Brazil, the IBOPE Institute carried out several surveys to assess the population’s knowledge about the Constituent Assembly. In one of them, published in the newspaper Zero Hora (07/05/1986), the percentage of people who did not know how to answer what the Constituent Assembly was, reached in Rio Grande do Sul to 70.5%. At the same time, IBOPE conducted a similar survey in the Northeast and this percentage reached 90%, and as for the national average, IBOPE found that 82% of the population did not know how to explain what the Constituent was. These numbers are sufficient to exemplify the observation made above that the situation for Brazil as a whole will be less favorable than that of Porto Alegre.

With these two observations in mind, let us return, then, to the analysis of the figures in the table with the data for the USA and Porto Alegre. What general conclusions does this picture allow us to reach? Examining these figures allows us to observe two main facts. The first is that there really are differences for the better in favor of wealthy nations, as we would expect. And that this more favorable situation resulted in the middle stratum being significantly greater than that which we can observe for Porto Alegre, and by extension, even more so, for Brazil as a whole.

The sum of the two higher strata gives 11.5% for the USA, and 10% for Porto Alegre. Of course, this is not an important difference. However, the situation regarding the third stratum (“Group Interest”), which is the intermediate group, is very different. While in the USA this group reached 42%, in Porto Alegre this number was only 21.5%. This is a very important difference, which sheds much light on the political reality of these countries, especially if we take into account what we have already mentioned about voting not being mandatory in the USA, and being mandatory in Brazil.

That is, strata I, II and III already account for the majority of the USA’s population (53.5%) and if we add to this the fact that a good part of group IV and the majority of group V will not vote, once that voting there is not mandatory, so it is clear why electoral behavior in countries such as the USA is more rational; and presently higher than it would be if voting in Brazil was also not mandatory.

Returning to our general conclusions, this better condition observed for the USA shows that better conditions of wealth, as well as a more comprehensive educational system, can in fact substantially improve the profile of conceptual grasp in the population as a whole.

But the second general conclusion is that, although the distribution of these groups in the rich countries is significantly better, the differences in breadth of social-political understanding persist as a central fact within the population, even in the rich countries, a population that, as we have already said, includes only 1/3 of the world population. What, then, to say about its importance with regard to poor countries, which account for 2/3 of the human family?

The data presented here (as we already said) constitute only a small portion of the data existing in the works mentioned. However, they are already sufficient to broadly corroborate the aspect of diversity (differences) as one of the fundamental characteristics, and one that is absolutely important, to a realistic panorama of mass publics in general.

Therefore, this foundational aspect of the “differences” (or diversity) is absolutely necessary if we mean to have a minimally satisfactory view of the different breadth levels of conceptual and informational grasp within the populations of the countries and, by extension, of the world population as a whole.

The Decisive Role of the Elites

Another conclusion of a general nature, and of the greatest importance, both theoretical and practical, is that the higher stratum of conceptual, social and political grasp (called elites) have a decisive role in the development of social-political processes in general, a fact that imputes to them a enormous responsibility, which is almost always not well enough recognized.

Philip Converse referred to this immense responsibility in the following terms:

“The broad contours of the elite’s decisions over time can depend in a vital way on the currents in what is vaguely called “the history of ideas”. Such decisions in turn have an effect on the mass of more ordinary citizens. But, of any direct participation in this history of ideas and in the behavior shaped by it, the mass is remarkably innocent.” (Converse, 1964, p. 255; emphasis added)

So far this aspect has already found a reasonable corroboration, just remembering Converse’s statement that even members of stratum or level III (“Group Interest”) can no longer recognize the effects of a given policy on their own interest, unless it is a very elementary or obvious question. In other words, even individuals in Level III need, in order to position themselves politically, that elite members of their trust point out the effects of far-reaching policies configuring what Converse called “proxy ideology”.

Some additional data, however, may more strongly corroborate this enormous influence of the elite on the mass publics as a whole. First of all, let us return to the aforementioned issue of mandatory voting in Brazil. To date, unfortunately, there is no consistent movement within Congress to change this very harmful institute in our political life. However, a few years ago the IBGE in a sample survey of great dimension (whose base reached 300,000 respondents) revealed that only 34.5% of the population was in favor of the mandatory voting institute; while 56.9% were against it; and 8.6% did not know or did not declare. (Posted in Zero Hora, 10/29/1989)

Therefore, although the majority of the population is against it, the elites cared little and, until now, several years after the publication of this research, nothing has happened, even in periods of crises of two elected presidents (Fernando Collor and Dilma Roussef) happened to have suffered impeachments and had their mandates interrupted, and the former president Lula da Silva was convicted and arrested.

Fortunately, this overwhelming influence of the elite does not always occur in the harmful sense, as we can see in another well-known example, that is the question of the death penalty. Several surveys have already shown that the majority of the population is in favor of this institute. Political elites, however, have so far not bowed to this vile aspect of mass consciousness, even though there is already a movement by several congressmen in this direction. Not that in practice there is not a form of unofficial “death penalty” in this country (Brazil). It exists, at least for the poor or the miserable, since the death of criminals, especially the very young, is a frequent occurrence in police actions of crime repression.

Another example in this sense, even more graphic, is the legalization of Communist parties. When these parties were legalized in the early 1980s, after the process called “political opening”, a large majority of the population was against such legalization.

This example is revealing in a double sense. First of all, because it reveals how the elite can and, in fact, conditions public opinion. This is because this attitude of the population is the result of years of propaganda against the Communists, and has resulted in a large majority (as we will see below) opposing the legalization of Communist parties.

This example is very impressive because, as we have already seen, the vast majority of the population does not even have a precise idea of ​​what is left and right in politics, what to say about the programs of the Communist parties.

The other impressive meaning of this example about the enormous influence of the elite is that when they decided to legalize these parties, they were legalized without any problems, and nothing happened to the contrary. Nevertheless, the vast majority were against it, as attested by the figures in the table below for the population of Porto Alegre, with the answers to the question:

– “Are you for or against the legalization of the Communist Party?”

Levels In favor Against Did not know/did not respond
(I) 67% 11% 22%
(II) 48 48 4
(III) 26 62 12
(IV) 8 74 18
(V) 5 56 39

Adding up the total of those who were in favor, we reached only 15% of the population! Those who opposed it totaled 61.4%, while 23.6% declared they did not know or did not answer. But, equally important in the table above is that it shows that only at Level I, of “Ideologues”, the majority was in favor of legalization, because even at Level II there was already a tie.

The figures are very illustrative, therefore, about the overwhelming influence of the elite. Among the “Ideologues” stratum a strong majority was in favor, and legalization ended up taking place, without even a small protest being heard, despite the vigorous majority of the population declaring themselves against it.

These figures provide the opportunity to show an example regarding the reliability, seriousness and precision of the data presented here on the attitudes and breadth of the population’s social-political grasp. This is because another, completely independent, research source (IBOPE, Isto É, Gazeta Mercantil and TV Bandeirantes) carried out a survey (in 1984), in the metropolitan regions of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and among the applied questions there was one like it:

– “Are you for or against the legalization of communist parties in Brazil?” In this survey, the following numbers were reached:

Replies Percentages
In favor 21.5%
Against 59.8%
Neither for nor against 14.1%
Do not know / have no opinion 4.6%
Total 100%

These figures were published in the magazine Isto É nº. 407, of 10/10/1984. The similarity between the data is striking: 61.4% were against in the UFRGS survey in Porto Alegre, 1982; and 59.8% declared themselves against in the IBOPE survey in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, in 1984.

The Actuality of the Data

Another pertinent observation is that many people, ignoring the nature of the facts presented here, always tend to think that in recent years things may have changed a lot, in terms of the breadth of levels of conceptual grasp in the the mass publics.

It is not uncommon to hear that as everything is changing so rapidly, that new digital communication media were developed, or that the country has become increasingly urban and industrialized, that, in consequence of these facts, the information collected ten or twenty years ago do not deserve much credit.

Now, the figures on the reality of the social-political consciousness of the population of a country like the USA should already be sufficient to show us that these ideational realities do not change, but on a relatively limited scale, and that even these limited changes occur slowly. That’s because the level of wealth, urbanization and industrialization reached by the USA forty years ago, a country Brazil as a whole will only reach many decades from now, being hypothetically very optimistic here.

A simple projection can help us to better visualize this issue. If we project a very reasonable national economic growth of 4% per year, with a very modest population growth by our standards of 1.5% per year, we will have a real increase in average wealth per capita / year close to 2.5%. In other words, it would take us more than 80 years to get out of the approximately $ 4,000 per capita income / year in Brazil today, to reach the $ 30,000 per capita / year that the United States reached long ago.

Even so, it may be opportune to present some more recent data and other sources that show how these things, fortunately or unfortunately, change almost nothing in a matter of a few years. Let’s look at the numbers of a DataFolha survey, which interviewed 5,260 people in ten Brazilian capitals, in October 1987, published in Folha de São Paulo, on 11/1/1987. The question was:

– “Do you know what was the first country to make a socialist revolution?”

Replies Percentages
Russia / USSR 24%
Other wrong countries 9%
Don’t know / don’t remember 67%
Total 100%

In other words, in ten capitals, only 24% knew the correct answer to this question. It can be argued that this is a rather sophisticated issue, and that it measures very little. Even so, it allows us to clearly perceive (when comparing this correctness coefficient with about 30% in Rio Grande do Sul, who in 1986 knew what a Constituent was; or with 39% in Porto Alegre, who in 1982 knew the meaning of left-right in politics) that all these numbers repeat a very constant design, and that they are not fantasy figures or randomly drawn, but numbers that reveal a severe reality, about which very few people are they who take the trouble to seriously consider.

It is worth adding another table, even more recent, the result of a survey by IBOPE, which interviewed 2,000 people, in May 93. This table was published in the magazine Veja on 2/6/1993, with the answers to the question:

– “Do you remember the name of the candidate and the party you voted for as a federal deputy in the last elections (late 1989)?

Replies Percentages
Remember candidate and party 12%
Voted only in the caption 14%
Remember only the candidate 8%
Voted blank / null 17%
Does not remember for federal deputy
Total 100%

In other words, half the population did not remember, quite simply, which candidate or party voted in what is the most important election in the nation. All major laws in the country depend on the Chamber of Deputies, or all major legislative decisions, or even, as has already happened in recent history, the impeachment of presidents, the maximum head of the executive power, in addition to so many other charges of greater responsibility and importance for the country. Well, with all this at stake, only 12% of the population remembered both the candidate and the party he voted for as a federal deputy in the last elections!

If we add the 49% who declared not to remember, with the 17% who voted blank or canceled the vote, plus the 8% who only remembered the candidate and, therefore, have such a low level of information that they do not even know to what party belonged to the candidate they voted for, we will reach 74%! Not to mention those who voted only for a party legend. That was in May 1993. There could hardly be any better corroboration than that regarding the validity of the general data presented here.

Having presented a glimpse into the unity inherent in the human family (Chapter 2), as well as an overview of the differences that characterize the political grasp of the population (Chapter 3), we can now move on to the next stage of our argument.

Thus, in the next chapters we will compare this panorama with the premisses of the dominant thought currents, as well as with the models of political organization derived from the main ideas of these currents, which are still hegemonic today.

In the following chapters we will place more emphasis on the critique of the current models derived from Liberalism – the forms of Liberal pseudo democracies – as this is the political system that is now world dominant, in addition to being the model that is organizing Brazilian political life.

We will try to show that the great problems faced by humanity are, in fact, related to the mistakes inherent to the premisses of the dominant thought currents (Liberalism and Marxism) and the consequent injustice and incompetence of the great social institutions derived from them, with special importance to their models of political organization.
(Arnaldo Sisson Filho. What Is Wrong With Politics?; — chapter 3)