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My only love sprung from my only hate!

- February 17, 2008

I do not always read the “Modern Love” column in the New York Times Sunday Styles section because it’s often really depressing. But today’s column was a gem. The gist of the story is that a hardcore Democrat, Ann Hood, fell for and married a Republican man. It is a love story, but more importantly, a synopsis of political science findings:

The power of party identification. This is the thrust of the whole piece. Although the number of political independents has been increasing, most of those are independents who lean towards one party, and they are almost as partisan as those who identify immediately as Democrats or Republicans (thus, the “myth of the independent voter“). Moreover, as Larry Bartels has shown, the influence of party identification on how we vote is also increasing. Partisan identities are meaningful, and thus it is no surprise that Hood’s heart sinks even as it swells with ardor:

bq. Still, it did not feel good when I told myself: I love a Republican.

And is no surprise that even though her new love feigns independence — “I vote for the best candidate” — he really means this: “They just happen to be mostly Republicans.”

Partisan identities are social identities. This is the argument of Donald Green, Bradley Palmquist, and Eric Schickler in this book. They contend that we think about partisanship in terms of the kinds of people who are Democrats and Republicans. Political parties thus become teams, and Hood feels like she’s letting down the team:

bq. It [loving a Republican] felt, in fact, like I had betrayed someone. Or many people.

Political homophily, a.k.a. birds of a feather flock together. Diana Mutz has shown that people’s personal networks — those with whom they discuss politics — are remarkably homogeneous. People discuss politics mostly with those who already share their opinions. And so it is for Hood and her new beau:

bq. Everyone I knew only read about and listened to and voted for Democrats…

bq. …Whenever we were with my friends, I would silently tally who was on which side. Inevitably it was my friends, blue; my husband, red. The opposite was also true. Almost without exception, his friends voted red, and I was a minority of one.

Party identification is a powerful but not all-powerful influence. This was an important caveat among the original theorists of party identification (in the classic The American Voter). People do deviate, although not often, from their traditional partisan preference. And thank goodness for that, because it saves this edition of Modern Love from heartache. It turns out that in the 2008 election, Hood’s husband supports this guy.