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Partisanship, ideology, and issue attitudes

- July 15, 2008

Lee’s entry below on the ideological consistency of conservatism reminded me of some of the material on issue attitudes in chapter 8 of our red state, blue state book and my paper with Delia on correlations between partisanship, ideology, and issue attitudes. Here’s a graph from the paper:


and here’s the abstract:

Public opinion polarization is commonly studied as a phenomenon of opinion radicalization and measured using the variation of responses on individual issues. Here, though, we conceive polarization as a process of alignment along multiple lines of potential disagreement. We measure polarization as growing constraint in individuals’ preferences, distinguishing between issue partisanship|the correlation of issue attitudes with party ID or ideology|and issue alignment|the correlation between pairs of issues.

Using National Election Study data from 1972-2004, we find issue alignment to have increased by only two percentage points in correlation per decade. Issue partisanship has increased more than twice as fast, suggesting that opinion changes correspond more to a re-sorting of party labels among voters than to greater constraint on issue attitudes: since parties are more polarized, they are now better at sorting individuals along ideological lines.

Levels of constraint vary across population subgroups: strongly identified Republicans and Democrats, wealthier, and politically sophisticated voters have grown more coherent in their beliefs. We discuss the consequences of this partisan realignment and group sorting on the political process and potential deviations from the classic pluralistic account of American politics.

The paper will appear in the American Journal of Sociology.