Edited by Jac C. Heckelman and Nicholas R. Miller
It is very common to encounter ideological terms – ‘left’ (or ‘liberal’), ‘right’ (or ‘conservative’), and ‘middle’ (or ‘moderate’) – in descriptions of political actors like parties, candidates or legislators. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine an adequate explanation of political phenomena without employing this kind of spatial terminology (Benoit and Laver 2006). Accordingly, empirical and theoretical models in political science regularly depict political actors as possessing most-desired or ideal points in some abstract, geometric ideological space and choosing alternatives (for example, candidates or parties or policy alternatives) closest to them in this space. This is known as the ‘spatial model’, popularized by two classic works: An Economic Theory of Democracy by Anthony Downs (1957) and The Theory of Committees and Elections by Duncan Black (1958). Part III of this Handbook addresses the theoretical foundations of the spatial model in greater detail. It is not difficult to conceive of political actors – especially legislators – as having ideological positions, but how can we measure a latent (unobserved) quantity like ideology? Although we cannot observe ideology directly, we do observe choice behavior such as voting on a series of recorded, or roll call, votes that presumably reflect individuals’ latent ideological positions.
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