Simply put, political culture is a people's shared framework of values, beliefs, and habits of behavior related to government and politics. These ideals and patterns of behavior develop over time and affect the political life of a state, region or country.
More specifically, the concept of political culture refers to how we view the following four aspects of politics, government and society:
the relationship between government and the people
rights and responsibility of the people
obligations of government
limits on governmental authority
Political culture is important because it establishes the backdrop against which politics unfolds. It establishes the outer limits of what is possible, or even probable, in the political realm.
Because political actors recognize the boundaries set by political culture, they often consciously use elements of political culture to achieve their ends. Supporters and opponents of reductions in social welfare spending, subsidies for businesses, changes in regulatory policy, permission for oil and natural gas drilling on state-owned park land, spending on highways, teaching creationism or intelligent design in grade school, and more, are often careful to present their views within the language of our dominant political culture.
In the end, culture is central to politics - it provides the context for political understandings, and the language of political discussion. Political culture often unites people by providing commonly understood language and symbols. But it can divide people, as well, by raising differences in experiences, understanding, and, ultimately, interests. Consequently, political culture both reflects and shapes the terms of debate for the competing interests in society.
In addition to shaping the terms of political conflict, political culture in recent years has become more frequently the very substance of political conflicts. The so called "culture wars" over sexually explicit music and video games, violence in movies and television programs, "moral relativism," prayer in school, gay marriage, abortion rights, and the teaching of evolution in public school biology classes, have moved to center stage of the political activism in the past two decades. Yet these explicitly culture-centric political conflicts are only the most visible, and explicitly manipulated, manifestations of the deep and broad cultural context that always shapes politics. There is much more beneath the surface.