Party Identification

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Define party identification
  • Understand how party identification is measured
  • Understand the importance of party identification
  • Understand the distribution of party identification in Texas

Party Identification

Party identification refers to the political party with which an individual identifies. Party identification is loyalty to a political party. Party identification is typically determined by the political party that an individual most commonly supports (by voting or other means).

Some researchers view party identification as “a form of social identity,” or a psychological attachement in the same way that a person identifies with a religious or ethnic group. This identity develops early in a person’s life mainly through family and social influences. This description would make party identification a stable perspective, which develops as a consequence of personal, family, social and environmental factors. Other researchers consider party identification to be more flexible and more of a conscious choice. They see it as a position and a choice based on the continued assessment of the political, economic and social environment. Party identification can increase or even shift by motivating events or conditions in the country,

A number of studies have found that a partisan lens affects how a person perceives the world. Partisan voters judge character flaws more harshly in rival candidates than their own, believe the economy is doing better if their own side is in power, and underplay scandals and failures of their own side.

Measuring Party Identification

It is important to measure party identification in order to determine its strengths and weaknesses. Political scientists have developed many ways to measure party identification in order to examine and evaluate it.

One American method of measuring party identification uses the Likert Scale, a 7-point scale to measure party identification, with Strong Democrat on one extreme and Strong Republican at the other. In between the two extremes are the classifications of “Lean Democrat/Republican” and “Weak Democrat/Republican.”

The Importance of Party Identification

Political scientists often refer to party identification as a “vote determinant.” Those people who identify with a party tend to vote for their party’s candidate for various offices in high percentages. Those who consider themselves to be strong partisans, strong Democrats and strong Republicans respectively, tend to be the most faithful in voting for their party’s nominee for office. In the case of voting for president, since the 1970s, party identification on voting behavior has been increasing significantly. By the late 1990s, party identification on voting behavior was at the highest level of any election since the 1950s. When voting in congressional elections, the trend is similar. Strong party identifiers voted overwhelmingly for their party’s nominee in the general election. It is important to note that each party respectively in certain elections, would have stronger voting behavior of their strongest party identifiers. For instance, in the years the Democrats dominated House and Senate elections in the 1970s and 1980s, it can be explained that their strong party identifiers were more loyal in voting for their party’s nominee for Congress than the Republicans were.

The same level of voting behavior can also be applied to state and local levels. While straight ticket voting has declined among the general voting population, it is still prevalent in those who are strong Republicans and strong Democrats. According to Paul Allen Beck and colleagues, “the stronger an individual’s party identification was, the more likely he or she was to vote a straight ticket.”

The Distribution of Party Identifcation in Texas

Using the methodology described above, the University of Texas/Texas University of Texas/Texas Tribune’s February 2018 Poll February 2018 Poll asked respondents about their party identification. The graphic below relays the results.