Yet Another Question about Partisanship

Here is a list of persons. Can we predict with a high level of probability their likely partisan identification?

  • White male from Mississippi who attends his local Baptist Church weekly.
  • Black male from Mississippi who attends his local Baptist Church weekly.
  • White lesbian college professor in Washington state.
  • Mexican-American female nurse in south Texas.
  • Black female filing clerk in Detroit.
  • White male with a high school education working construction in Georgia.

The answer is: yes, we can. In many cases we have more variables than we need in the given case to make a pretty solid guess. A couple are a bit trickier than others, while some are as close to a slam-dunk as one get.

(There is one more, much longer post on this coming-in fact, I teased this one out of that post).

FILED UNDER: Political Theory, 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


  1. Kit says:

    Can we predict with a high level of probability those people’s likely belief in global warming? Their familiarity with basic science? Where they go for their primary news source? Their likely education achievement (when not already noted)? Their propensity to believe in conspiracies? Their ability to read and comprehend a high school-level text? Their ability to distinguish the basic tenets of democracy (and even Christianity) from those of communism? Their ability to articulate the issues of the day? Their likelihood of being racist or sexist? Their likelihood to have traveled outside the country?

    I think I get the point you are making: the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. If you grew up poor and uneducated, then your kids will likely be the same.

    The fact that this is true makes me mad, although certainly not with you. My conclusions are that 1) ignorance and democracy do not mix, that 2) there is great money and power to be had in keeping enough people ignorant, that 3) the ignorant will actively oppose education as it will destroy their culture and drive away their children, and that, 4) in a two-party system, ignorance that dances to the common tune of propaganda will create bitter polarization as one half of the country is forced to hang together against a barbarian hoard lest the resistance all hang apart.

    Lack of education, both directly and indirectly, drives much of white nationalism. Given the substantial numbers that these people represent (and the fact that they can be organized as never before), forces their enemies (blacks, browns, gays, etc., etc.) as well as those better educated, into an uneasy coalition: the only other option that our two-party system allows. I blame a toxic culture that should have been extirpated after the terrible cost of the Civil War, an unfortunate tolerance for poor educational achievement encouraged by religion, a fantastic concentration of wealth that only wishes to see that wealth increased, a fatally flawed system of government, and a media environment (both television as well as the internet) that all too often serves as propaganda driven by the rich.

    Sorry for the rant, Steven. I’m looking forward to hearing the next instalment.

  2. Stormy Dragon says:


    Lack of education, both directly and indirectly, drives much of white nationalism.

    While this is probably true for the “foot soldiers” of white nationalism, I suspect that much like Islamic militants, the leaders and organizers are more likely to be the educated failsons of the lower upper class: raised to feel they’re entitled to a high position in society and when it falls apart they lash out against a society they thing hasn’t given them what they’re owed (e.g. Osama bin Laden was the university educated son of a Saudi millionaire construction magnate).

  3. Kurtz says:

    @Kit: @Stormy Dragon:

    The Roubani article yesterday, you two today… Can I keep myself from looking at things that ruin my day?


  4. Jim Brown 32 says:

    You could predict those with a high degree of accuracy. Other commenters have wanted to go a level beyond about why. I view the world and societies from a “pillar” framework. Humans are pack animals that organized into hierarchies that produce the widgets of services we collectively call society. These hierarchies are more complex in urban area and less complex in rural area. Depending on the society, these hierarchies are also organized by prestige and status conferred by that community. For example, the religious pillar is going to have more status and prestige in Birmingham, Alabama than New York City. Likewise, the financial pillar is going to have more clout in NYC than the finance pillar in Birmingham.

    This is important because it gives you a roadmap for where/how to deploy your persuasion campaign and how to tailor the language towards individual leaders within that community. Many commenters on this board are agnostic/atheist–signifying that science is a very prestigious pillar that resonates with them. Yet, they lose any persuasive value their education could otherwise give them in a debate because the fundamental disconnect is they expect the science/education pillar to be a similar high pillar in Southern society. It is not–and–it doesn’t matter if you care about outcomes. There are arguments that can be made in the religious pillar to individual religious leaders that will produce the same retrospection and, hopefully, outcomes that were hoped for though arguing from the lower status pillar (in the minds of the hearer). At the very least, the argument goes farther, as–the minute you dismiss the prestige of a pillar–persuasion is all but impossible.

    So the bottom line is that yes, its possible to predict the political proclivities of the people in the example. Not because of the issues, candidates, or platform. Its because they identify with the pillars of that community-who in turn- identify with the Party. The highschool construction worker in Georgia would be a democrat today–had the pastors, law enforcement, military at the top of the pillar in his community stayed Democrat. They went Republican–and therefore he is. People ARE willing to make a change when the influencers in the communities start changing. This is no easy task–and it takes years. But, as my grandfather used to say, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”

  5. @Jim Brown 32: One comment: I am talking here about mass behavior (and indeed, I have been talking about mass behavior all week).

    You are correct to note, however, that mass opinion can be heavily influenced by elite behavior.

  6. Gustopher says:

    It’s a trick set of questions, isn’t it? Somehow they are all the same person, aren’t they?

    Got it. They’re all people Sam Beckett jumped into in Quantum Leap.