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

Figure 1

The differences and patterns can be seen in Figure 1. In the top part of the figure we see the United States, Britain, and Germany. In each of these countries the distribution is that of a normal curve. Most of the respondents are concentrated in the center and very few place themselves at the extreme right or extreme left. The United States has the most consensual of these distributions, with nearly half the respondents locating themselves at the center. At the bottom of the figure we see the distributions for France and Italy. although the center is still the most common position, their political cultures are more conflictual than those of the three countries above. Fewer citizens locate themselves at the center—only about one-third in France do so. And, as we might expect from the substantial strength of Communist parties in France and Italy, many citizens place themselves at the extreme left. These more conflictual distributions in the political culture both encourage and reflect the more intense political debates in these countries, and have been associated with dispute over the legitimacy of the regime as well as disagreements on political issues.

When a country like Italy or France is deeply divided in political attitudes and values we speak of the distinctive groups as political subcultures, which may share common national sentiments and loyalties, but disagree on basic issues, ideologies, and the like. The term political subculture may also be applied to groups less opposed to one another, as in Austria and the Netherlands. In the latter countries, such groups as Catholics, Protestants, liberals, and socialists have distinctive points of view on political matters, affiliate themselves with different political parties and interest groups, have separate newspapers, and even separate social clubs and sport groups. Nonetheless, relationships between these groups have been relatively amicable in recent years, unlike the intense and violent conflict between political subcultures in Northern Ireland.

From Gabriel A. Almond and G. Bingham Powell, Jr., Comparative Politics Today: A World View. © 1984 by Gabriel A. Almond and G. Bingham Powell, Jr.

Sample Items for Passage 1

  1. The passage argues that the politics of a nation are determined by:
    1. the amount and kind of economic activity engaged in by a society.
    2. a consensus of national sentiments and loyalties.
    3. the degree to which the interests of a nation conflict with those of other nations.
    4. the opinions of citizens about what policies are best for their society.
  1. The passage suggests that political subcultures exist in societies in which:
    1. there is a high degree of political consensus.
    2. citizens disagree violently on basic political issues.
    3. disagreement between political parties is generally amicable.
  1. I only
  2. II only
  3. III only
  4. I and III only
  5. II and III only
  1. According to Figure 1, which nation reports the greatest number of citizens who consider their political orientation to be on the extreme right?
    1. France
    2. Italy
    3. United Kingdom
    4. United States
  1. A nation in which two political parties publish newspapers which criticize each other's ideas for instituting reform in welfare programs can most likely be considered a:
    1. conflictual culture with harshly opposed political subcultures.
    2. conflictual culture with amicable political subcultures.
    3. consensual culture with amicable political subcultures.
    4. conflictual culture with limited freedom of the press.


1. D. 2. E. 3. C. 4. B.