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DALTON: CH2 “THE NATURE OF MASS BELIEFS”

What are Dalton’s criticisms of the democratic elitist theory?

The elitist theory turned the supposed limitations of the public into a strength of democracy.

It held that politics might prove unworkable if ever person were active on every issue at all times.

With that being said, Dalton criticized the democratic elitist theory for overlooking the

complexities of the democratic process and takes an unsophisticated view of the evidence such as

ignoring the inconsistencies that exists among political elites (i.e., endorsing strict measures to

control crime, but in the next one they refuse to ban assault weapons). These inconsistencies in the

elite behavior are treated as examples of the complexity of politics, but if the same inconsistencies

were to exist in the public it would be considered as signs of limited sophistication. Furthermore,

the elitist democratic theory lacks faith in the common man due to the elitism of researchers that

contributed to their negative image of the public.

Dalton provides three main explanations for political sophistication. Choose one, describe

his claim and evidence, and assess the persuasiveness of his argument.

Political sophistication concerns the extent to which a person has knowledge of political

activity, assimilates information, and forms political views. Part of the three main explanations of

political sophistication according to Dalton is cognitive mobilization which tackles on how citizens

used to have limited access to information in the past while, now in the modern times, a vast supply

and variety of political news are readily accessible to everyone. A huge contributor to cognitive

mobilization is the expansion of mass media, such as television. Before, television used to be

considered a luxury, but now almost everyone owns and has television subscription and due to this

there has been an increase in television programs. Today, news reporting is instantaneous and done

on a worldwide scale. In addition to news from the television, many people still read newspapers
and magazines, hear news on the radio, use the internet, and learn politics from their friends. This

expansion of information sources paralleled the public’s greater ability to process political

information. Gone are the days when news are a week late or when information is exclusive to a

certain group of people. Now more people have the resources and skills necessary to deal with the

complexities of politics and to reach their own political decisions. Even more so because of this

cognitive mobilization a common man can evaluate and decide whether the economy is improving

or note improvements in education and health standards. Hence, if they see good results they are

bound to support the incumbents and because of cognitive mobilization the political participation

and perception of a common man is a lot better because they are generally better educated and

have increased access to a wide variety of information.