A Simple Question about Partisanship

A further attempt to explain how party is such a key variable.

Here’s a question: have you ever been voting and come to an office on the long ballots that we have here in the US and not known anything about the candidates running that office? How did you choose for whom to vote?

The answer is: you picked the candidate in the party you identify with.

This is an illustration of how partisan identification is a primary way that people make political decisions. We all use it as a shorthand to help us sort out political choices.

If you are going to assert that you go into the polling booth fully versed on the personal details and qualifications of each and every candidate and that you know what every office does, I will take you at your word, but I am going to be highly skeptical. (And, I suppose some people abstain in offices where they really don’t know anything about the candidates, but again, that is rarer than just going party).

I have been a political news junkie since I was a kid. I have a Ph.D. in Political Science who focuses on parties and elections and I have to admit that I do not go into the voting booth thoroughly educated on every office being contested.

After all, our ballots look like this:

1996 US General Election Ballot - Burnet County, Texas

There are roughly 20 offices on this page of the 1996 general election ballot from Texas (it was one I had handy, but this is fairly representative still–certainly the length is no different) and there can be multiple pages in a given election. A given election in the US can have multiple dozens of candidates as well as ballot measures, state constitutional amendments, bond issues, and other choices.

So even if you are the weirdo who shows up with detailed knowledge of every office on the ballot, what do you think is true of the typical voter? As a group, most people (i.e., in the aggregate) use the Rs and Ds to guide their way.

And since most people have had their partisan ID for some time, and they rarely change, partisanship becomes a powerful explanatory variable.

And because people are deeply entrenched in their identities and slow to change, they often have to rationalize what their side does long before they are willing to abandon that side.

Despite the fact that people often like to say “I vote the person, not the party” the reality is that most people very much vote party and it is just a staggering coincidence that all the good people happen to have the same label by their names.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Politics 101, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    It was once fairly common for the ballot to have the option of voting for all the candidates from a specific party and the sample you provided does have that option. So yes, party affiliation is a stand-in for knowledge of the candidate.

    7
  2. DrDaveT says:

    Gee, if only those candidates I’ve never heard of had some way to signal to me what kinds of positions they are likely to take, and what kinds of initiatives they are likely to vote for and against, and whether they believe in science and secular society and racial equality, despite the fact that I haven’t done my homework. Then I wouldn’t have to revert to blind partisanship and rely on the little letter next to — hey, wait a minute…

    20
  3. CSK says:

    I’m not sure how one explains Massachusetts, an overwhelmingly Democratic state that seems quite happy to elect Republican governors on a fairly regular basis. It’s no secret that Charlie Baker has an R next to his name. But the legislature has veto-proof Democratic supermajorities and the entire Congressional delegation is Democratic.

    6
  4. Zachriel says:

    The answer is: you picked the candidate in the party you identify with.

    That is correct for the majority of voters. However, that is not necessarily an irrational choice.

    Politics is team play, and if your team encapsulates your values and positions, then you will stick with your team even if the candidate is less than ideal, or if you know nothing about the particulars of the candidates. So, a strongly pro-choice voter may vote Republican regardless of the candidate or office because they believe it will advance their primary interest; while a liberal opposed to McConnell’s Senate leadership may vote Democratic even if the candidate holds otherwise right-leaning views on many issues. This is like rooting for your American football team, even if your quarterback sucks.

    2
  5. gVOR08 says:

    How dare you suggest that just because I’ve never voted for a Republican in my entire long life that I wouldn’t carefully and entirely rationally consider that that collection of ignorant fascist assholes might, by some miracle, have nominated the best man?

    12
  6. Sleeping Dog says:

    After reading Steven’s post, I came across this article at the Atlantic, that supports the points made in the post.

    Trump has made the presidency about himself, and now the same is largely true for Senate races. Splitting the ticket—voting for one party in the presidential race and another in down-ballot contests—has grown vanishingly rare in recent decades. Every state with a Senate election that Trump carried in 2016 also chose the Republican candidate, while each state with a Senate election that Hillary Clinton won picked the Democrat. That pattern should hold in 2020, reinforced by Trump’s ubiquity. “Everyone puts most candidates in two buckets: pro-Trump or anti-Trump. That’s it,” a former senior White House official told me.

    Emphasis mine.

    That certainly was true here in Cow Hampshire in 2016. There was no reason to believe that Kelly Ayotte wouldn’t be re-elected in what would have been a close race. She had reasonable approval ratings, was personally well liked and had tied herself to John McCain and other repug moderates. Her disadvantage was that she had only faced the voters once, in 2010, while her opponent, Maggie Hassan, a popular retiring governor had faced the voters 4 times in the prior 8 years. I suspect that for most voters, Hassan was the candidate they were most familiar with. For the record Clinton beat Tiny in NH by 0.4% of the vote and Hassan’s margin of victory was 0.1%.

    5
  7. @Zachriel: Yup. And that’s a huge portion of my point.

  8. Sleeping Dog says:

    @CSK:

    As long as I can remember, back to John Volpe, Massachusetts’ voters have chosen divided government. Chock it up to not trusting the legislature. By and large, Mass repug governors would have been Dems in any state but Vermont. Even Romney, who was probably the most conservative of the lot, was moderate to mildly liberal on many social issues and ran on a platform of sound fiscal management.

    2
  9. @CSK: All I can continue to say at this point is, as I noted repeatedly elsewhere: primary does not mean sole.

    So other variables (incumbency, candidate quality, local variations, etc) can come into play.

    And, again, I have been talking in the other threads almost exclusively about national elections–as we get lower and lower, things change. Plus, as I said elsewhere this morning, it is easier for an R in a blue state to moderate in ways that is harder at the national level.

    And, also again: I am not saying that some people don’t change their minds (or, which I haven’t noted, some may choose to abstain in a given election–i.e., turnout matters as well).

    I am not seeking a magic formula to predict the future, I am pointing out how most people behave in the aggregate.

    1
  10. @CSK: My other response to this example, without even trying to answer any actual questions about it: to what degree is what you describe the norm nationally versus to what degree is the state a bit of an outlier in what you describe?

  11. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    I was thinking of Volpe. It was the mid-sixties, I think, when Mass. started to go more and more blue.

    You are, of course, quite right that Mass. Republicans, for quite some time, have tended to be at least mildly liberal–actually laissez-faire–on social issues. You are not going to win an election here running around screeching about the need to end all abortions for any reason immediately.

    It’s possible that Republican fiscal policies appeal to the frugal Yankee soul. 🙂

    3
  12. MarkedMan says:

    @DrDaveT: But isn’t that Steven’s point?

    2
  13. @MarkedMan: It is.

  14. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    I think Massachusetts is an outlier for a lot of reasons. The northeast may be the one part of the country where social conservatives haven’t taken over the party. And…Mass. Republicans tend to be WASP bluebloods. I can’t see guys such as Charlie Baker or William Weld or Frank Sargent appealing too much to the Republicans of, say Iowa.

    4
  15. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Oh, I understand what you’re arguing. I’m not disputing that. I agree that most people vote reflexively along party lines.

    2
  16. Zachriel says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Yup. And that’s a huge portion of my point.

    Your post seems to be more about what, not why.

    Steven L. Taylor: the reality is that most people very much vote party and it is just a staggering coincidence that all the good people happen to have the same label by their names.

    A lot of voters aren’t always happy with the candidates their party puts forth. Many Republicans were less than happy with Romney, for instance. They still largely voted Republican because it advanced their overarching goals. And yes, they rationalized their choice to some extent.

    Most Republicans are very happy with Trump.


    “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” — H. L. Mencken

    2
  17. Gustopher says:

    Despite the fact that people often like to say “I vote the person, not the party” the reality is that most people very much vote party and it is just a staggering coincidence that all the good people happen to have the same label by their names.

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all. I think good people have no place in the Republican Party anymore.

    I started that sentence as a joke, but it finished with complete earnestness.

    I’ll moderate that slightly. There are some good people who vote Republican for religious reasons — pro-life Christians of the “love thy neighbor” variety, often Mormon, but other denominations as well — but they would never win a Republican primary.

    The Republican primary seems to reward the most radical, the most spiteful, the most borderline racist and the least pragmatic. These just aren’t good people.

    And borderline racist. Actual KKK members are seldom the primary winners.

    5
  18. Slugger says:

    Some offices in my state are non-partisan, and you do get a sometimes bewildering menu of names you never heard of. Of course, in my state we have vote by mail which does give you the opportunity of leisurely reading the voters’ pamphlet that the state mails out containing a two-three paragraph sketch that the candidate has submitted and a picture. Additionally, the pamphlet contains several several explanations of ballot issues such as taxes with pro and con statements by interested people.
    Of course, people still cast their ballots without deep thought at least part of the time. A feminist I know told me that she generally votes for women no matter what. I responded that I do the same thing but only if they are hot. I got stared at for that response.

    1
  19. James Joyner says:

    @CSK:

    I’m not sure how one explains Massachusetts, an overwhelmingly Democratic state that seems quite happy to elect Republican governors on a fairly regular basis.

    Because there are still some (many?) states where party ID for local races works differently than it does for federal office.

    Presumably, a Massachusetts Republican is more conservative than a Massachusetts Democrat. But a competitive Massachussetts Republican is likely a Democrat in any other context.

    Additionally, sometimes a candidate will strategically utilize the weak party ballot as a shortcut to office. See, for example, Mike Bloomberg. By national standards, he’s a Democrat. But he shrewdly ran on the Republican line for mayor of NYC.

    4
  20. Michael Reynolds says:

    The answer is: you picked the candidate in the party you identify with.

    Largely true. But not very useful, at least to me, because it doesn’t address the ‘why’ of party identification to begin with. Yes, Yankees fans like Yankees players. But how and why did they become Yankees fans? Are there former Yankees fans? How did they come to change their allegiance?

    Party affiliation numbers in 2004: R32 I40 D28
    Those numbers for 2020: R30 I36 D31

    Not huge shifts there, but in a country where 46% of voters and a handful in three states elected Trump, margins are what it’s all about. And in the intervening years (this dataset covers 2004 to 2020) we’ve seen R as high as 37 and as low as 21. The Dems have gone as high as 40 and as low as 25. These are shifts in the 40% range, and they do not follow a pattern that suggests demographics are the explanation.

    So, why has party affiliation fluctuated in ways that do not follow demographics? The issues and the candidates.

    If you want to change R to D, or D to R, you put forward issues and candidates. Party ID is, IMO, a function of issues and candidates. Issues and candidates are the cause, party ID the effect. If you dig deeper you ask which issues/candidates moved voters from D to R or R to D, and that gets down to matters of economics, education, war and peace and below that are questions of human nature and character.

    Character/nature -> Issues/Candidate -> Party ID. You can’t reverse that order without doing damage to the space-time continuum, because character/nature (birth to present) precedes issues/candidates (first political awareness to present) which in turn precedes party ID.

    Look at the massive shift of party ID across the south following Civil Rights. Almost overnight (in political terms) a huge number of people moved from D to R. Why? The issues.

    I don’t think this is in any way @Steven’s intention, but concluding that D’s vote D because they’re D’s and Rs vote R because they’re R’s, strikes me as defeatist. If it’s all identity, whaddya gonna do? But if D’s vote D because of what D stands for, and R’s vote R because of what R stands for, we have a call to action.

    People vote the way they do because of their individual natures, the issues that matter to them and the candidates that appeal to them. So, is it accurate to say that D’s vote D because they’re D? Sure, but it’s a tautology.

    4
  21. CSK says:

    @James Joyner:
    Oh, sure. A Massachusetts Republican by Alabama standards is a raving left-winger. Not by Massachusetts standards, though. Back when Scott Brown was a senator, someone of my acquaintance described him as “a right-wing extremist.” Really? Sure, Brown was a Republican, but a right-wing extremist? It confounds me that anyone could seriously call him that, but that’s a certain type of Massachusetts Democrat for you.

    It’s interesting that even Elizabeth Warren agreed with some of Brown’s proposals; certainly she remarked that she did.

    2
  22. @Michael Reynolds: Except that the social science is pretty clear that most people acquire their party ID from their families, not from a dispassionate assessment of the issues.

    BTW, do you even think most people understand the issues? What they are and how they work? Or do they resort to what their party says about them?

    I don’t think this is in any way @Steven’s intention, but concluding that D’s vote D because they’re D’s and Rs vote R because they’re R’s, strikes me as defeatist. If it’s all identity, whaddya gonna do?

    In the aggregate, this is true.

    It is especially true in a starkly binary party system that has becomes polarized.

    2
  23. Scott F. says:

    And since most people have had their partisan ID for some time, and they rarely change, partisanship becomes a powerful explanatory variable.

    And because people are deeply entrenched in their identities and slow to change, they often have to rationalize what their side does long before they are willing to abandon that side.

    I happily concede the power partisanship holds over voting behaviors, but here you suggest that abandoning a side is possible, even if rare.

    So, I’m drawn back to the origins of this discussion not to ask you about whether partisanship is key and primary or why people are partisan, but rather what should a reasonable person expect as the limits of partisanship, particularly in the age of Trumpism?

    Even considering the legacy of fanaticism in American sports, fully loyal fans are known to turn on their teams when the performance on the field reaches a certain level of awfulness – when not only the quarterback, but the whole squad can’t play the game competitively. People stop buying tickets or show up to the game wearing paper bags. They don’t stop being loyal fans necessarily, but they do start to demand that their team raise their level of play under the threat of abandonment. The fans protest that they will hold out their support if there isn’t improvement.

    But we are not seeing this at all with Republican partisans with Trump in office. Both GOP politicians and voters are in lock-step with Trump to an extent I’ve never seen before from either party. So, it is a matter of difference in degree of partisanship, not in kind, that makes the current political dynamic so dumbfounding to those of us trying to understand how Trump can maintain loyalty despite his depravity, corruption, and ineptitude even with advancing conservative objectives.

    If the Patriots were playing this badly, the fans would at least boo. Trumpkins are taking up arms and proclaiming their team is actually winning the game.

    7
  24. Sleeping Dog says:

    @CSK:

    Also Mass repug governors tend to be from the nobles oblige portion of the upper class. With the exception of Volpe, Cellucci and Romney, they all trace their family history in Massachusetts back to if not the Mayflower, the Massachusetts Bay Colony and all speak without moving their jaw.

    What’s the line about Boston, “Where Lowells speak only to Cabots, And Cabots speak only to God.”

    1
  25. DrDaveT says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    People vote the way they do because of their individual natures, the issues that matter to them and the candidates that appeal to them.

    I would add, especially today, “…and the information they are getting”. Flat out disinformation and agitprop have been key factors in creating the current (irreversible?) divide between D’s and R’s, because the grass roots D’s and R’s are working from totally different descriptions of reality.

    7
  26. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    Yes, I mentioned the blueblood aspect in one of my posts. As I said, I think it’s one of the reasons why someone like Weld, Sargent, or Baker wouldn’t appeal to a midwestern Republican. Too elite. Too well-educated. Too well-spoken. Not a real Amurricun.

    3
  27. Blue Galangal says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Except that the social science is pretty clear that most people acquire their party ID from their families, not from a dispassionate assessment of the issues.

    That seems essentialist, for lack of a better word. Party ID is doing a lot of work here; how much of their general identity are they acquiring from their families? That is, the Venn diagram of Trump supporter and racist is pretty much a circle. But they didn’t learn to be racist from Trump or from the R party. They learned it from their families and they found a home for it in the GOP, with a “leader” who gives voice to their deeply held beliefs, and they approve of him for saying out loud in front of other people what they talk about backstage among their own kind all the time.

    4
  28. Kurtz says:

    Just a reminder, the following has been mentioned in comments at different points. A longer post was teased by Steveb at some point, but I don’t think it ever came to fruition.

    In the middle-end of the realignment after the New Deal coalition fell apart, many states in the South voted Republican on the national tickets and maintained solid D majorities at the state level.

    1
  29. @Scott F.:

    fully loyal fans are known to turn on their teams when the performance on the field reaches a certain level of awfulness – when not only the quarterback, but the whole squad can’t play the game competitively. People stop buying tickets or show up to the game wearing paper bags. They don’t stop being loyal fans necessarily, but they do start to demand that their team raise their level of play under the threat of abandonment. The fans protest that they will hold out their support if there isn’t improvement.

    Yes, when teams lose fans rebel.

    They don’t rebel when teams win–and, in fact, often overlook the character flaws of their star players when they are winning.

    This is vitally important to understand how Rs can rationalize Trump: THEY WON.

    And the run-of-the-mill pro-choice Republican WON with SCOTUS

    The pro-tax cut, pro-regulation-cut corporate Republican WON tax cuts and deregulation

    And yes, xenophobe Republicans WON harsh immigration policy and rhetoric.

    And so forth, and so on and all of that winning, to borrow a phrase, allows them to rationalize away some of the not so winning.

    7
  30. @Kurtz: Probably if I would stop responding to comments, I would have written more. But, alas, I may have burned myself out for the moment.

    I am not sure what I was going to write would have fully helped. We shall see.

  31. Northerner says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Gee, if only those candidates I’ve never heard of had some way to signal to me what kinds of positions they are likely to take, and what kinds of initiatives they are likely to vote for and against, and whether they believe in science and secular society and racial equality, despite the fact that I haven’t done my homework. Then I wouldn’t have to revert to blind partisanship and rely on the little letter next to — hey, wait a minute…

    The option to learn about candidates has always been there. Just like the option to learn the biochemistry and physiology of exercise and diet, or to learn the biology of smoking, or enough accounting to understand income tax forms … and a thousand other examples.

    How many people do any of that? And why expect that more people will take the time and effort to understand politics and politicians than would do the same for their own health and personal finance? Most people are busy or lazy enough that just going for a label (R or D, southwinds or paleo) or just getting someone else to do it for them (accountant or party leaders) is their preferred option.

    Politics, like biochemistry, physiology and accounting, is mind numbingly boring for most people (and I apologize to the people who actually do and love those fields). Even climate change has huge amounts of easily accessible research for anyone who wants to look for themselves (research which strongly backs the scientific consensus that its real), but most people decide based not on their own personal research, but on a label (ie are they conservative or progressive).

    There aren’t many things out there (Covid-19 being an exception) where the problem is lack of information. Lack of interest in reading up on things that affect us on the other hand …

    2
  32. Kurtz says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    That wasn’t a dig, I apologize if it seemed that way.

    I think part of my confusion about the other thread has been that all of these things have been discussed here in posts and comment sections within the last few months without the pushback.

  33. Northerner says:

    @Scott F.:

    I suspect the sports analogy would require Republicans to turn on Trump if he loses. I predict actually they would — in fact many would suddenly discovered they never liked or voted for him.

    Winning teams, even ones with scandals such as stealing signals or inflating footballs, rarely lose their fans and ticket sales.

    2
  34. @Kurtz: I did not take it as a dig in any way.

    @Northerner: Yup.

  35. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I don’t think this is in any way @Steven’s intention, but concluding that D’s vote D because they’re D’s and Rs vote R because they’re R’s, strikes me as defeatist. If it’s all identity, whaddya gonna do? But if D’s vote D because of what D stands for, and R’s vote R because of what R stands for, we have a call to action.

    And then there are those who vote for the candidate they would rather have a beer with. People whose identities are built around being very, very dumb. And the “they’re all corrupt” crowd.

    People incorporate things into their identity, and then they hang onto those things for far longer than they would if they were carefully analyzing every decision in life. And it takes a serious shock to the system to knock them out of it.

    If the Republicans had nominated Marco Rubio in 2016, I suspect our dear James Joyner would still basically be a Republican, lamenting the excesses of the Tea Party crowd, and finishing those laments with an oft-times unspoken “but what can you do?” I’m not surprised that Trump was a few steps to far, as Dr. Joyner is (to the best of my knowledge) not a spiteful man who favors jailing children and covets power for its own sake.

    But, it took a jolt. He didn’t wake up one day and say “I’ve been graphing my dissatisfaction with the Republican Party and the 30-day rolling average now indicates that I am no longer a Republican.” It takes a shock to even look at that graph. Not that there really is a graph.

    Dr. Joyner’s very public, very slow change has been fascinating to watch over the years by the way.

    I do think Steve Taylor is simplifying things — there isn’t a single monolithic Republican identity, but a cluster of different identities that the Republican Party appeals to. Not a massive number, but maybe a half dozen or so that account for 90% of Republicans.

    Where fault lines occur within a party, that’s when there’s a disagreement among those basic identities. The “love thy neighbor / do good works” Christian crowd has been roped in by abortion, but is having trouble with caging children, while the right wing media attempts to bridge over those problems by selling the party platform as a package. You come for the spittle flecked rants about “Tiller The Baby Killer”, you stay for the outrage over immigrants and angel families, and somewhere in there you hear about lower marginal tax rates for incomes above $250,000 and incorporate that.

    I am surprised that so few Republicans found Trump to be unacceptable, and that so many people who were just right-leaning apolitical numbnuts became very Trumpy. That second group really surprises me.

    5
  36. @Northerner: BTW, I wouldn’t even call voting by party label lazy, per se. It is actually kind of essential for representative democracy to work.

    3
  37. @Gustopher:

    I do think Steve Taylor is simplifying things — there isn’t a single monolithic Republican identity, but a cluster of different identities that the Republican Party appeals to.

    The funny thing is that elsewhere I have been taken to task for not treating Republicans in a monolithic fashion. 🙂

    I never said monolith, and indeed have mostly talked about factions (hell, even this comment above acknowledges factions).

    I am saying, however, that American voters have only two choices and that makes changing one’s identity really hard to do (to your point, in fact).

    3
  38. @Gustopher:

    I am surprised that so few Republicans found Trump to be unacceptable

    I wish more had. But I am not surprised that most of them preferred the guy with the R by his name rather than the woman with the D by hers.

    2
  39. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Sleeping Dog: I don’t recall any Washington ballots I ever voted having the option to simply vote a straight ticket, but I have heard of it in other places. And though I never after 1976 voted for either a Democrat or a Republican for President, I generally voted for only one party on other offices, so even I fit the standard profile mostly.

  40. DrDaveT says:

    @MarkedMan:

    But isn’t that Steven’s point?

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    It is.

    OK, after deleting a couple of attempts to express why this reply startles me, I think I’ve found a way at resolving my confusion, if Steven is willing. I will state what I think his argument is, in my words, and he can point out where I’ve got it totally wrong.

    Here’s what I thought Steven’s argument was:
    1. Party identification is highly predictive of voting behavior. D’s vote D and R’s vote R.
    2. Party identification is also mostly imprinted and self-perpetuating. People raised in D households join team D; people raised in R households join team R. It is similar in this regard to religious affiliation or sports fandom.
    3. Other things are also imprinted and self-perpetuating. In addition to religion and sports affiliation, this includes things like values, prejudices, world models, preferred information sources, etc.
    4. As a result, there is a high correlation between party identification and these other things.
    5. However, it would be a mistake to view the predictive power of party identification as it being a mere proxy for these other things. Indeed, party identification is a better predictor of voting behavior than these other things, and people are more likely to vote against their “values” (construed broadly) than against their party identification.

    That’s the argument I’ve been pushing back against — and specifically against point #5. Have I misunderstood you?

  41. Scott F. says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Fair enough about “all that winning.”

    Then DrDaveT is right that Flat out disinformation and agitprop are the secondary key variables in Trump’s stable support.

    Because the populists that carried The Donald into office couldn’t be too thrilled if they knew the true score (there is no wall, immigration trends haven’t reversed, small city factories haven’t returned, the US hasn’t stopped its warring, etc). Plus, even the most oblivious will notice the momentum has changed here in the fourth quarter.

    2
  42. Gustopher says:

    @DrDaveT: I don’t know why 5 is a surprise.

    Party identification is a better predictor than the other values because the party identification is that person’s (often inherited) summation of their values-and-other-things in the political sphere.

    An appeal to values-and-other-things not only has to work at that level, but it also has to cause the person to examine that summation.

    3
  43. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    But I am not surprised that most of them preferred the guy with the R by his name rather than the woman with the D by hers.

    But he’s such a terrible guy with an R by his name that I would have expected him to cause way more people to reassess party identification.

    Alas, many of the Republicans who held their nose and voted for the lesser of two evils have since embraced him.

    1
  44. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT:

    5. However, it would be a mistake to view the predictive power of party identification as it being a mere proxy for these other things. Indeed, party identification is a better predictor of voting behavior than these other things, and people are more likely to vote against their “values” (construed broadly) than against their party identification.

    Absolutely. Indeed, I would argue Trump exemplifies this.

    Trump was a New York Democrat until not that long before the election. He was a big money Democratic donor. He was pro abortion, etc. He’s in many ways an antithesis of Ronald Reagan, the icon of the modern GOP (at least pre-Trump). And yet most Republicans rallied around him once he became the nominee.

    Edited to add: Further, to the extent more moderate/squishy Republicans like myself left the party out of disgust over Trump, it made what remained (almost all of the party) even more rock-solid supporters.

    5
  45. al Ameda says:

    When it comes to statewide and federal elections it definitely matters to me whether there’s a D or an R by that name, now more than ever, for local elections often not as much as many candidates for city or county positions do not present themselves as rank partisans. But still, it matters.

    You can no longer function as a moderate in the Republican Party. Look at the now hapless Susan Collins, Lamar Alexander, Jeff Flake, or Rob Corker – they talk moderate, in the end they act (vote) in support of a president that usurps Congressional prerogatives and destroys the norms of responsible civic behavior. ….. So … Why would a Democrat vote for a good moderate Republican candidate if you cannot count on that candidate to depart from current party line Republican politics along the way? The answer for me is, I will vote for the D, because I cannot imagine the R be where I am enough of the time to make my vote for the R worth it.

    4
  46. @DrDaveT: Before answering anything else, can you explain to me how this is supposed to be an argument against what I have been saying:

    Gee, if only those candidates I’ve never heard of had some way to signal to me what kinds of positions they are likely to take, and what kinds of initiatives they are likely to vote for and against, and whether they believe in science and secular society and racial equality, despite the fact that I haven’t done my homework. Then I wouldn’t have to revert to blind partisanship and rely on the little letter next to — hey, wait a minute…

    1
  47. @Scott F.: There is little doubt that various factors influence opinions, but I never said otherwise.

    But in a two party system pro-life, pro-tax cut, pro-deregulation folks only have one party to go to. Likewise, those who think gay rights have gone too far, are opposed to trans rights, and are fearful that white people are losing power have the same place to go.

  48. @Gustopher:

    But he’s such a terrible guy with an R by his name that I would have expected him to cause way more people to reassess party identification.

    And many have. Hopefully more will do so.

    But I cannot stress this enough: it is hard for people to reject their identities and voting D when you have voted R for years, if not decades, is not easy. Plus, people have legitimate gripes about Ds (certainly in their own eyes they do).

    The problem is that folks here see Trump as a monster, with cause, and can’t understand how anyone could vote for him. If you want to understand politics, you have to try understand why others won’t behave the way you want them to.

    Look, I, personally, don’t understand on many levels how any human being can watch Trump talk and still be willing to vote for him. The reality is, however, that they do. And those will vote him are not all Nazis or Good Germans or whatever else you want to call them. It is simply more complicated than that.

    4
  49. @al Ameda: And what you are describing is deepening polarization.

    1
  50. Scott F. says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    And many have (reassessed party identification). Hopefully more will do so.

    Which is why it is worth exploring the limits of partisanship. “How far is too far?” is the question on which campaign messages are built for those who are still willing to weigh what they’ve won against the values and principles they may have sold out with their complicity in the ways the wins were achieved.

    2
  51. Jay L Gischer says:

    You make a good point, and I’m not disagreeing with the top line.

    But what I do is a bit more refined. I vote by mail, so what I do is sit down with the ballot and the voter’s guide(s). I go through each office that I’m not familiar with and read the candidate’s statements. There are probably very few things an R candidate to say to get my vote, but the D candidates have to qualify to get my vote. A D behind their name isn’t enough. I’ve voted Green or just not voted before if I thought the D candidate wasn’t good enough.

    There are a few R candidates that I have thought would probably be fine on an individual basis, but they are a vote for the R’s to hold the majority, and that is a big problem for me, as they would advance policies I do not like at all.

    Yeah, partisanship is a thing, but it’s based on avowed policies of the parties.

    2
  52. Jay L Gischer says:

    I find it noteworthy how many things Trump does that is the opposite of what the standard Republican position was. This plays out first and foremost on national security issues, but it also was in play on infrastructure, and to some extent entitlements as well. Mitch McConnell managed to snuff some of this stuff out, but Trump’s populism was not “we don’t need health care” it was “I’ll make better health care”.

    But there appears to be very little pushback on this. I guess it takes a while for people to change their mind, and a single candidate in a single election won’t do it.

    1
  53. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    but Trump’s populism was not “we don’t need health care” it was “I’ll make better health care”.

    Which, as I recall, was what Mitch and the boyz were saying while Obama was in office when they weren’t lying about how “the Dems excluded us from the conversation totally [insert low pathetic moan here].” For six fwking years, it was “if we can have a chance, we’ll show you a plan better than Obamacare, but we can’t show it now cuz the Dems will steal it and call it their own.” Even Trump believed that they had a plan and was surprised that they didn’t.

    Virtually nothing Trump said was ever original to Trump–with the exception of the gay rights stuff, which he backpedaled on almost immediately upon taking office.

    1
  54. DrDaveT says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    I find it noteworthy how many things Trump does that is the opposite of what the standard Republican position was. This plays out first and foremost on national security issues, but it also was in play on infrastructure, and to some extent entitlements as well.

    This is central to the discussion we’ve been having with Dr. Taylor, regarding whether the current ultrapolarization is primary a problem with our system or primarily a problem with the GOP. Dr. Taylor concludes from his research that the power of partisan identification would lead most Democrats to remain loyal to a Democratic president even through the same kinds of sweeping policy reversals that Trump has led the Republicans through. Some of us think that’s unlikely, for a variety of reasons. We won’t see the natural experiment that resolves that question, which is a good thing.

    2
  55. @DrDaveT: Becausse all the feminists Democrats turned on Bill Clinton, of course.

    2
  56. Would it kill everyone to step outside of their own partisan preferences and biases just for a moment and assess the degree to which our own identities shape our view of the world? We don’t have to envision a Democratic version of Trump to do so (nor do we have to excuse the real Trump).

    But, perhaps this is asking too much.

  57. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Before answering anything else, can you explain to me how this is supposed to be an argument against what I have been saying

    Sure.

    The bit you quoted is the position of a voter who thinks that the important things are the values and policies, and that the party label is only important as a signal of likely behavior by the candidate. If the signal is misleading, that voter will be unhappy and will feel misled even if the D or R she voted for won — or, especially if her candidate won and then didn’t do the desired things.

    Your analysis, as I understand it, makes the party affiliation primary — voting for the right team is more important than voting for the values and policies traditionally associated with that team. This implies that voter regret should be very low — a D or R voter won’t be disappointed if the D or R they voted for wins, regardless of what policies that elected official then pursues, because the important thing is that their team won.

    1
  58. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Because all the feminists Democrats turned on Bill Clinton, of course.

    I wasn’t aware that Bill Clinton’s policies were anti-feminist. Which particular policies were you thinking of, that should have caused Democrats concerned with feminist issues to feel betrayed by Bill Clinton?

    2
  59. grumpy realist says:

    @Gustopher: Trump seems to appeal to people who aren’t very successful in life and run around with chips on their shoulders blaming everyone else for the situations they find themselves in. They love Trump because he’s “successful” in spite of whining all the time and acting without integrity.

    Trump is the god of those who marinate themselves in self-pity.

    2
  60. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Becausse all the feminists Democrats turned on Bill Clinton, of course.

    Consenting adults and all that*. If women are to be treated like equals, we have to accept that they have agency when choosing to sleep with a married man. Even Monica Lewinski, young as she was, was an adult capable of making her own bad decisions. Feminists, by and large, aren’t Puritans.

    And Clinton’s policies were good. And the Republicans didn’t offer a reasonable alternative.

    And, for Xenu’s sake, his nickname was Slick Willy. Some things are just accepted because they were right there in the open all along — Bill Clinton was going to be personally disappointing, but pursue good enough policies.

    ——
    *: The Republicans have so poisoned the well with false Clinton allegations that if the rape allegations they have been promoting have any merit to them they will never be taken seriously, and that’s honestly a shame.

    2
  61. drj says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Becausse all the feminists Democrats turned on Bill Clinton, of course.

    This is unfair.

    Allow me a comparison.

    Over at TAC, Rod Dreher says that he will support Trump, despite all his flaws, over the Democratic challenger in the upcoming elections because he perceives the acceptance of gays and transgenders by the Democratic party as an outright assault on the basic foundation of society (or something close to this).

    I think this is completely ridiculous and that, as a result of his stance, Dreher actively facilitates evil.

    But I’m not saying Dreher is part of a cult. He holds an internally consistent worldview that he uses to come to a reasoned consideration of which candidate will best support his desired political outcomes.

    Likewise, it is perfectly reasonable to be a feminist and to have voted for Bill Clinton.

    But when (I (and others) are saying the GOP is increasingly like a cult, we are not talking about the Rod Drehers of this world. We are talking about those who defend the position that hydroxychloroquine works against Covid-19, while also arguing that the pandemic is Democratic hoax and deliberately manufacured by the Chinese. We are taking about those who perceive some sort of conspiracy in the “unmasking” of Flynn, who complain about Obamagate (whatever that is), who believe Obama wasn’t born in the US, and who think global warming is a liberal hoax.

    I could go on and on and on.

    And this is exactly where your sports team analogy, ultimately, shows its limitations. There is simply no widespread support in northern Ohio for the idea that the 2017 Cleveland Browns were a great team that was being unjustly ridiculed by the lamestream media.

    I would never argue that partisan identification isn’t a powerful force, but it’s not enough IMO to explain what we see happening at this particular point in time.

    “Cult,” “cult-like,” etc. seem helpful descriptors to explain the phenomena before our eyes.

    5
  62. Kit says:

    I thought this was a great post, Steven, and look forward to see how you build upon it.

    I didn’t have much time yesterday, which was a pity as so many people had ideas I would have enjoyed being able to respond to. The sports-team analogy held up surprisingly well. I no longer follow football, and haven’t watched a game in decades, but the Patriots were my home team, so I’ll check in now and then to see how they are doing. Deflationgate is probably a good example of how I would lend a sympathetic ear to their side of the story. On the other hand, I would not tolerate hearing Belichick say something like: Hell yeah, we did that do get an advantage, and we’ll do it again. We play to win, and don’t give a damn if that requires cheating and lying. But we will not tolerate that in our competitors–our aim is to destroy them by any means possible. After all, that what winners do and that’s what the love of winning requires.

    Maybe you can see where I’m going with this. I’ll admit that this is off the main point of your post, but as the subject did turn this way I thought I’d add my two cents.

    3
  63. Kit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Would it kill everyone to step outside of their own partisan preferences and biases just for a moment and assess the degree to which our own identities shape our view of the world?

    I would very much appreciate you devoting a post to how misinformation and propaganda shapes identities and so our view of the world. I just posted on today’s (Sunday’s) open forum highlighting the results of a recent poll showing how strong belief in false ideas is on the right.

    It’s one thing to say that most people can’t reject their identities, and that our two-party system funnels them down a certain path. It is another thing to recognize that the views which form and reinforce their identities is intentionally false, a la Matrix.

    Also, I’d like to here your views (or at least what any research says), about how people change with regards to their party? Is it like the proverbial frogs in the boiling pot, or are most of us committed to riding it out to the bitter end, if that’s here the party is headed? Again, just suggestions for future topics.

  64. Warren Peese says:

    The nice thing about mail-in ballots (WA State has been 100% mail-in for years) is that you can sit on your couch, laptop open, and Google the candidates and issues you don’t know. I changed my vote from R to D more than once in 2018 after a little digging around, after finding that a couple of R candidates were complete douchebags.

    2
  65. Jay L Gischer says:

    I think a better point Steven could have made was with Hillary Clinton. Her policy positions disappointed quite a few, especially those further left. They tried to give her heat for it, but ultimately they voted for her. But some stayed home, and some voted Jill Stein, but by and large that was a smaller number than the Never Trumpers.

    But the policies in question were sort of second-tier ones, not the big voting issues for most voters. I suppose that could be true for Trump, too, though the departure is kind of breathtaking. I think this takes time, and multiple candidates drifting away from what you want to shake someone loose.

  66. DrDaveT says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I wasn’t aware that Bill Clinton’s policies were anti-feminist. Which particular policies were you thinking of, that should have caused Democrats concerned with feminist issues to feel betrayed by Bill Clinton?

    Yeah, that’s what I thought.