Saturday, November 30, 2013

What is Party Identification?

Since the publication of Campbell, Converse, Miller, and Stokes’ The American Voter, if not before, there has been a debate in political science about the conceptualization of party identification. As the debate has played out, there have developed two competing viewpoints. One view holds that party identification is established through political socialization, is fixed fairly early in one’s political life, and is one of the more, if not the most, stable political attitudes. It is, according to this conception, the lens through which all politics is viewed. It is the result of a “funnel of causality,” which provides the basis for other political views or issue positions. The other view holds that party identification can and does change as one experiences a party’s selection of candidates and considers the party’s positions on issues. As a result, party identification is the result of a constant tallying by the individual of a party’s issue positions and its candidates for public office.
I’ve posted previously on the method used to ascertain an individual’s party identification and placement on the seven point scale (See On Party Identification in Texas in this blog).
In their recent bookWhy Americans Don't Join the Party: Race, Immigration, and the Failure (of Political Parties) to Engage the ElectorateHajnal and Lee explain that the adoption of a party identification is more complex than the simple social identification with a political party through political socialization, especially for Hispanics, Asian Americans, and recent immigrants. But I believe that they’ve added considerably to our conceptualization of party identification. Let me illustrate what I mean.
Hajnal and Lee explain that merging the Michigan school’s conception of party identification as explained in The American Voter with the Downsian view that originated with Antony Downs and was expanded by Fiorina and others involves three “Is”Identity, Ideology, and Information. Identity refers to an individual’s social identity, similar to Green, Palmquist, and Schickler’s conception: “As people reflect on whether they are Democrats or Republicans (or neither), they call to mind some mental image, or stereotype, of what sorts of people are like and square these images with their own self-conceptions.  In effect, people ask themselves two questions: What kinds of social groups come to mind as I think about Democrats, Republicans, and Independents?  Which assemblage of groups (if any) best describes me?” In this category, I would place an individual’s race or ethnicity, her socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender, religious affiliation, and generation. The influence of each of these vary by individual, but all are potentially important. But identity is just one component of party identification.
In addition, ideology influences a person’s party identification. What is the individual’s political ideology—liberal, conservative, libertarian, populist, or moderate—and does that ideology conform to the ideology that prevails in a political party? Not only is the ideological category important. The commitment that the individual has to the ideology is also important. That is, is the individual slightly liberal, liberal, or very liberal? The ideology reflects a consistent set of attitudes concerning the role and functions of government. A moderate is an individual who lacks of a consistent set of attitudes. But that’s not all. There is a third component: Information.
Information refers to an individual’s political knowledge. This knowledge would be affected by an individual’s interest in politics and government, her sources of political information, and her evaluation of the party’s candidates and their positions on issues that are important to the individual.

This is how Hajnal and Lee depict the development of party identification:

And this is my adaptation of their depiction:

As I conceive of party identification (or the lack of party identification), an individual assesses her social identity, determining what defines the groups or categories which are important to her; assesses her ideology by considering the political issues that she considers important as well as her positions on those issues; and gathers information about politics and government. Using those components, the individual assesses the political parties and decides whether she is a Republican, Democrat, or neither of those. If a Democrat or Republican, the strength of the attachment is assessed. If neither, the individual is either a pure independent or leans toward one of the two political parties. There is, however, another choice: the individual may decide that she really doesn’t know enough to choose one of the political parties or consider herself an independent. In that case, she is apartisan and responds “don’t know," “not sure," or "don't care.”

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