Lazarsfeld's Legacy| Paul Lazarsfeld’s Understanding of the 1948 Electoral World and 2020

Anthony Oberschall



Voting resulted in pioneering knowledge about the political attitudes and behaviors of ordinary people, as well as of methods for study of political process. Paul Lazarsfeld and his team found that voters were not the rational decision makers of economic theory, but neither were they puppets manipulated in mass society. Voters are social beings as influenced by their social milieu and peers as they are with regard to other social and cultural preferences and behaviors. The 1948 election in U.S. politics was fought on longstanding and stable socioeconomic cleavages. Multiculturalism, identity politics, and racial justice were not on the political agenda. Lazarsfeld was mindful that ideological issues might lead to antidemocratic tendencies, as in 1930s Europe. Since the 1950s there have been major changes in the political media and in political culture. This forum article explores the extent to which Lazarsfeld’s findings about the electoral process are applicable in the present time.



social milieu and peer influence on voting, socioeconomic differentiation of the electorate, changes in political communications and culture, contemporary antidemocratic tendencies

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