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Article

Leonie Huddy and Alexa Bankert

Partisanship remains a powerful influence on political behavior within developed and developing democracies, but there remains a lively debate on its nature, origins, and measurement. In this debate, political scientists draw on social identity theory to clarify the nature of partisanship and its political consequences in the United States and other developed and developing democracies. In particular, social identity theory has been used to develop an expressive model of partisanship, which stands in contrast to an instrumental model grounded in ideological and policy considerations. Included here are a discussion of the key motivational and cognitive components of social identity theory and an explanation of how the theory can be applied to the study of partisanship. The focus is on the measurement of partisanship, its social nature, its origins in convergent identities, and its ability to generate strong emotions and drive political engagement. Lastly, areas for future partisanship research are discussed. These areas include the study of negative partisan identities, coalitional identities in multiparty systems, and the political situations in which expressive and instrumental aspects of partisanship are most common.

Article

Steven Weldon and Denver McNeney

Political scientists have long assumed that issues were at the heart of vote choice and a causal determinant of it—that is, citizens came to politics with clear issue preferences and they voted for the party or candidate that best represented those interests. Many would say democracy demands this kind of link between issue preferences and vote choice. And yet, studies have consistently shown that surprisingly few voters measure up. Many voters know remarkably little about politics, including even basic facts about their own political system. They have little conception of issues, party, and candidate positions on those issues or how issues relate to one another as part of a coherent political ideology. As a result, they often have unstable and ephemeral preferences. Worse, among the fraction of voters who are engaged and well-informed, many appear susceptible to persuasion and possibly manipulation of their issue opinions from the media and their partisan leaders. This raises questions about the viability of representative democracy and, at its most pessimistic, the possibility that elites are largely free to pursue personal goals unchecked and independent of the public good. Some of the most innovative work on issue voting is focusing on partisan bias, including its limitations and how it relates to other social divisions. When mapped onto existing social divisions in society, such as those arising from race, religion, and immigration, issues can indeed matter for elections because they tap into and stimulate the same psychological and affective processes that make partisanship so powerful in the first place—in-group and out-group bias. Cross-national research has also increasingly pointed to the role of such issues as part of an emerging political cleavage related to globalization that is transforming elections and party systems across Europe and other postindustrial democracies. The causal determinants of issue voting is a promising avenue for future research.

Article

Democracy depends upon citizens’ ability and motivation to make political decisions: the decision to turn out and vote, to protest, or simply to support or oppose certain policies. Political scientists have dedicated significant attention to the study of individual political decision-making. This type of research was primarily shaped by the rational choice paradigm, which assumes the individual acts as a rational agent and attempts to explain and predict political behavior by examining the costs and benefits associated with it. This approach, however, does not account for people’s decision to become politically active in the face of high costs and low returns. Whereas some researchers have tried to further develop rational choice theory by expanding its parameters, political psychologists have explored alternative avenues including genetics, neuroscience, and personality and social psychology. Social psychology in particular has gained recognition among political scientists as the concept of social identity has spread throughout the discipline. Social identity theory focuses on the part of an individual’s self-concept that is derived from perceived membership in a social or political group. In the political realm, race, religion, and ethnicity, as well as ideology and partisanship, represent some of the most consequential identities for people’s political preferences. In particular, an abundance of research has shown partisanship to be one of the strongest predictors of political attitudes, turnout, and voting behavior. Notably—and breaking with some of the axioms of rational choice—this string of research demonstrates that partisanship is not necessarily grounded in ex-ante political preferences and carefully considered party platforms but instead drives people’s political attitudes and behaviors. From that vantage point, the social identity approach reverses the causal arrow that was originally posited by rational choice: Rather than being the outcome of stable political preferences, partisanship serves as their origin. To explain this reversed causation, social identity researchers postulate that partisans utilize their group membership as an anchor to navigate the political word. Motivated by the desire to be good team players and advance the party’s status, partisans fall in line with their party, thereby aligning their political attitudes with the party’s platform. Using surveys and field experiments, political psychologists have provided convincing evidence for the validity of these psychological dynamics. Especially in the United States, partisan identity is a key factor in explaining mass political polarization and interparty hostility. Contrary to many expectations, however, the social identity approach’s utility goes beyond the United States’ two-party system and extends to European multiparty systems despite the substantial variations across political systems. In addition to its value for empirical political behavior research, Social identity theory also comes with heavy normative implications. If partisans blindly follow their party’s stances on crucial political decisions, how can one ensure accountability, increase citizens’ understanding of complex political issues, and encourage partisans to reach across the aisle and engage with their political rivals?

Article

Despite the prominence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans and debates over LGBT rights in modern American politics, a substantial academic literature that examines their political attitudes has yet to develop. Prominent academic surveys have only relatively recently begun to ask respondent sexual orientation, though even the highest quality surveys that rely on random national samples still contain few LGBT respondents given their small share of the population. Further, questions about respondent gender identity are still largely absent in both academic and commercial surveys. As a result, systematic and deep knowledge about the contours of LGBT political attitudes and how they differ from those of non-LGBT Americans is understandably shallow. However, existing surveys can provide a descriptive overview of the American LGBT community and its politics. Demographically, those who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual in surveys as of the mid- to late 2010s tend to be younger, disproportionately female, less religiously committed, less likely to be white, and somewhat lower income and more highly educated than those who identify as heterosexual. Given how these demographic tilts map onto modern political divides, it should not be a surprise that LGBT Americans skew more liberal and Democratic than others in their political orientations. When differences emerge between LGBT and non-LGBT Americans in their issue attitudes, LGBT respondents in surveys consistently tend toward more liberal-leaning opinions. However, this leftward tilt does not always place LGBT persons on the liberal side of issues on average, nor does it mean that LGBT and non-LGBT survey respondents are necessarily in opposition in the aggregate as oftentimes the difference between them is their degree of collective liberalism. Thus, the nature of these intergroup differences depends on the issue or set of issues under examination. Existing data and research do have certain limitations that future research may improve upon. Given that most data on LGBT political attitudes comes from general population surveys of which LGBT respondents are only a small part, most current data do not strongly lend themselves to deeper analysis of subgroups within the LGBT community. Surveys specifically of LGBT people suggest important differences between gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals in how they view their identities as LGBT people and how they perceive how LGBT people fit into modern society, so future research may gather the data necessary to explore the consequences of these differences in political attitudes in greater depth. Also, there is substantial room for future research to explore the sources of LGBT political distinctiveness, and to what extent that distinctiveness stems from demographics, socialization, lived experience, psychology, or other factors.

Article

Federico Maria Ferrara and Thomas Sattler

The relationship between politics and financial markets is central for many, if not most, political economy arguments. The existing literature focuses on the effect of domestic and international political interests, institutions, and policy decisions on returns and volatility in stock, bond, and foreign exchange markets. This research bears implications for three major debates in political science: the distributive effects of politics, globalization and state autonomy, and the political roots of economic credibility and its tensions with democratic accountability. While the study of politics and financial markets is complicated by several theoretical and empirical challenges, recent methodological innovations in political research provide a window of opportunity for the development of the field.

Article

Early electoral research in the United States discovered the most important concept in the study of political behavior: party identification. Party identification is a long-term, affective attachment to one’s preferred political party. Cross-national research finds that these party identities are a potent cue in guiding the attitudes and behavior of the average person. Partisans tend to repeatedly support their preferred party, even when the candidates and the issues change. Party ties mobilize people to vote to support their party, and to work for the party during the campaign. And given the limited information most people have about complex political issues, party ties provide a cue to what positions one should support. The levels of partisanship among contemporary publics, and how it varies across nations and across time, are described. The implications of these patterns, and the current research debates on the significance of partisanship for democracies today, are discussed.

Article

All governments require revenue, and domestic taxes are the primary means for generating it. Yet both the size and shape of taxation vary significantly across countries and have been transformed over time. What explains variation in domestic taxation? To answer this question, recent scholarship on taxation has focused on the politics of taxation as a tool for redistribution. This has led to a wide body of research on the fiscal impact of taxation and on the introduction, evolution, and variation in direct and progressive tax regimes, particularly the income tax. Yet the focus on taxation as a redistributive tool yields a puzzle, as more progressive tax systems tend to be found where redistribution is in fact the lowest. Explanations of this paradox often center on the impossibility of high and progressive taxes on capital in the context of international economic integration. Not as well studied are taxes other than the taxation of income, and the deliberate politics of nonfiscal, regulatory, and incentive effects of different tax choices. Methodologically, problems of endogeneity are ubiquitous in the study of tax policy choices, but more sophisticated experimental work is well underway in research on individual preferences for taxation.

Article

Mark Hallerberg

The topic of fiscal politics includes taxation and spending, budget balances and debt levels, and crises and the politics of austerity. The discussion often focuses on how some variable—such as the international environment, or political institutions—constrains “politics” in this realm. Almost omnipresent concerns about endogeneity run through this research. While this is a “big” policy area that deserves study, tracing causation is difficult.

Article

Marcus M. Weymiller and Christopher W. Larimer

“Decision outcomes” refers to mass political behavior as well as decisions by elites in the policy arena. Such outcomes are naturally the product of the decision-making process, a process that has been informed considerably by research in areas outside of political science. Political and policy processes are less defined by rational responses to incoming information than by pre-existing cognitive biases favoring narratives, stories, and symbols. Thus, to accurately understand decision outcomes requires an interdisciplinary approach, and, indeed, the discipline of political science has increasingly incorporated insights from psychology, social psychology, sociology, behavioral economics, and other social and natural sciences. Decision outcomes may reflect the true preferences of decision-makers, but behavior and outcomes have also been shown to change dramatically depending on who knows (or will know) the decision. Considering decision outcomes as the dependent variable, several factors have been identified that consistently and significantly shape outcomes in the political and policy worlds. Political outcomes, such as voting (by citizens and elites), are often explained by focusing on party ID or partisanship, and for good reason, but there are also instances in which decision outcomes are better encapsulated by more localized factors or influences. Policy outcomes, on the other hand, are less easily defined or predicted. Emotional testimonies and random fluctuations affect whether an issue is acted upon by a legislative body. Attention to social context and a concern for fairness is a primary driver of decision outcomes in social situations. In particular, leader–follower dynamics and group outcomes are significantly affected by the process in which decisions are made.

Article

Stephen N. Goggin, Stephanie A. Nail, and Alexander G. Theodoridis

George Washington warned in his farewell address that “the spirit of party ... is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind.” Indeed, while many factors influence how citizens judge, reason, and make decisions about politics, parties and partisanship play an extraordinarily central role in political cognition. Party and partisanship color how individuals understand the political world in two broad ways. Partisan stereotypes, or how party labels call to mind a host of attributes about people and constituent groups, play an important role in cognition. Second, perhaps even more pronounced in a hyperpolarized political world, is the way in which party influences cognition through partisan identity, or one’s own attachment (or lack thereof) to one of the parties. This connects a party and co-partisans with one’s own self-concept and facilitates an us-versus-them mentality when making political judgments and decisions. Both cognitive pathways are often simultaneously operating and interacting with each other. While we can think about the role of party in terms of stereotypes or identities, the impact of partisanship on actual cognition often involves both, and it can have varied implications for the quality of political decision making. Because partisanship is central to the political world, particularly in democracies, it has been the subject of a variety of lines of inquiry attempting to explain its impact on voters’ decisions.

Article

Donald P. Haider-Markel and Abigail Vegter

National, state, and local legislatures develop and debate most of the LGBT-related public policy in U.S. legislatures, which is also where LGBT groups can often best represent the interests of their community, even if the outcomes are not always ideal. Most of the progress on legislation that expands protections for LGBT people has occurred when advocates can garner at least some bipartisan support, and some issues, such as HIV/AIDS, have attracted significantly more bipartisan support. Although Democratic legislators have tended to be more supportive than Republican legislators, legislator behavior is influenced by a variety of forces, including constituency opinion, interest groups and lobbyists, and religious traditions, as well as personal and family experience.

Article

Conservative Christianity’s alignment with the Republican Party at the end of the 20th century is one of the most consequential political developments, both for American religion and American party politics. In the proceeding four decades, what has been the nature of this relationship? The inclusion-moderation thesis suggests that once religious movements are integrated into political parties, their interests are often co-opted by broader party interests and their positions moderate. For the Christian right in the U.S. there is mixed evidence for the inclusion-moderation process. Considering all the evidence, the most apt description is that conservative Christianity has transformed the Republican Party, and the Republican Party has transformed conservative Christianity. With its inclusion in the Republican Party, the Christian right has moderated on some aspects. The movement has become more professional, more attuned to the more widely accepted, secular styles of democratic politics, and more engaged in the broader goals and positions of the party. Conservative Christianity has also failed to fully achieve some of its most important goals and has lost some of its distinctiveness. In these ways, the party has changed the Christian right. At the same time, the Christian right has altered Republican politics. National candidates have changed their positions on important social issues, including abortion, gay rights, and religious freedom. The party’s platforms and judicially strategies have been strongly affected by movement’s interests, and conservative Christian activists have come to be central to the Republican Party. It’s stability and strength within the party have given the movement power. In these areas, the Christian right has evangelized the Republican Party rather than moderated. A fair assessment is that for the Christian right there has been partial but quite incomplete adherence to the inclusion-moderation process.

Article

Dane Warner and Jason Gainous

Behavioral research largely treats attitudinal ambivalence as a component of attitude strength. Specifically, attitudinal ambivalence exists when someone simultaneously possesses positive and negative evaluations of a single attitude object. Ambivalent individuals do not have a single “true” attitude about political issues but rather a store of multiple and sometimes conflicting attitudes that they might draw upon at any given time when making a decision. Research has suggested that such ambivalence is quite common when it comes to political attitudes. Thus, understanding the measurement of ambivalence, the sources of ambivalence, and the consequences of ambivalence is critical to understanding political decision making. Ambivalence measures largely fall within one of two types: Meta-attitudinal measures where individuals assess their own ambivalence and operative measures where researchers construct indicators that assess ambivalence without individuals’ cognizance that it is being measured. Most research suggests that operative measures perform better. Research generally assumes that the causes of ambivalence are rooted in individual differences in attitude strength that may result from a host of individual or combined sources. The most common sources of ambivalence researchers focus on are value conflict, differences in political knowledge, Context/Political Environment, and Cross-Cutting Information/Conflicting Networks/Groups. Finally, some of the most prevalent consequences of ambivalence are an increase in susceptibility to influence, an effect on the rate of political participation, and increased variance in vote choice. It is here, in the consequences of ambivalence, where the most direct connection to political decision making is evident. In a democratic society, the decision centered on for whom one votes, is perhaps, the quintessential political decision.

Article

Political communicators have long used framing as a tactic to try to influence the opinions and political decisions of others. Frames capture an essence of a political issue or controversy, typically the essence that best furthers a communicator’s political goals. Framing has also received much attention by scholars; indeed, the framing literature is vast. In the domain of political decision making, one useful distinction is between two types of frames: emphasis frames and equivalence frames. Emphasis frames present an issue by highlighting certain relevant features of the issue while ignoring others. Equivalence frames present an issue or choice in different yet logically equivalent ways. Characterizing the issue of social welfare as a drain on the government budget versus a helping hand for poor people is emphasis framing. Describing the labor force as 95% employed versus 5% unemployed is equivalency framing. These frames differ not only by their content but also by the effects on opinions and judgements that result from frame exposure as well as the psychological processes that account for the effects. For neither emphasis nor equivalence frames, however, are framing effects inevitable. Features of the environment, such as the presence of competing frames, or individual characteristics, such as political predispositions, condition whether exposure to a specific frame will influence the decisions and opinions of the public.

Article

Nathan C. Walker

A society’s political and legal treatment of religion is a distinct indicator of the health of a democracy. Consequently, high levels of political and legal contempt for religion in the United States can be an indicator that partners in American democracy may be going through a divorce. By drawing upon studies that measure voter attitudes and behaviors, as well as research that tracks the levels of social hostilities and violence toward religion, students of democracy see into two of society’s most revealing mirrors: political rhetoric and the nation’s laws. These reflections can unveil powerful questions about the true character of a nation: will democracy rule from a place of contempt for the religious other, or from a state of passive political tolerance, or from a constitutional commitment to actively protect the rights of those with whom we disagree? Theories of political tolerance and psychological studies of contempt prove helpful in examining contemporary levels of religious animosity in politics and law. The Religious Contempt Scale, as introduced in this essay, gauges a society’s willingness to tolerate the religious other. When special attention is given to the frequency and degrees of severity of expressions of contempt, it becomes clear that contempt has political utility: to motivate the intolerant to gain access to power and, in turn, to motivate those who are intolerant of intolerance to remove them.