Individual Differences in Group Loyalty Predict Partisan Strength

Abstract

The strength of an individual’s identification with their political party is a powerful predictor of their engagement with politics, voting behavior, and polarization. Partisanship is often characterized as primarily a social identity, rather than an expression of instrumental goals. Yet, it is unclear why some people develop strong partisan attachments while others do not. I argue that the moral foundation of Loyalty, which represents an individual difference in the tendency to hold strong group attachments, facilitates stronger partisan identification. Across two samples, including a national panel and a convenience sample, as well as multiple measures of the moral foundations, I demonstrate that the Loyalty foundation is a robust predictor of partisan strength. Moreover, I show that these effects cannot be explained by patriotism, ideological extremity, or directional effects on partisanship. Overall, the results provide further evidence for partisanship as a social identity, as well as insight into the sources of partisan strength.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Originally the Fairness foundation was described in terms of equality and rights, however, more recent research understands Fairness in terms of reciprocity (Haidt 2013).

  2. 2.

    However, just because a particular intuition or moral foundation was adaptive does not imply that it continues to be adaptive in modern society.

  3. 3.

    In this sense, Loyalty should promote lower generalized trust, but higher particularized trust (e.g., Uslaner and Brown 2005).

  4. 4.

    Some of this work interprets personality traits and sociopolitical orientations (e.g., RWA) as causally prior to the moral foundations. Yet, recent work questions common assumptions about the causal relationship between traits, values, and ideologies (Kandler et al. 2014). Thus, more research designed to draw causal inferences will be needed to resolve this question.

  5. 5.

    Respondents who did not have internet service were offered free internet access for the duration of the study. Further details can be found through the American National Election Studies website.

  6. 6.

    The Wave 7 sample size was smaller than some of the other waves. Only 1053 respondents in this wave completed the full MFQ.

  7. 7.

    Internal reliability of the Loyalty foundation and remaining foundations (Care: α = .65, Fairness: α = .67, Authority: α = .65, Sanctity: α = .73) is similar to previous work (Graham et al. 2011).

  8. 8.

    Initial evidence suggests that the foundations are stable over time (Graham et al. 2011), but more recent evidence calls this into question (Smith et al. 2016). Smith et al. (2016) tested the stability of the foundations over a longer period of time, but relied on a poor measure of the foundations (Haidt 2016), so the cumulative evidence is ambiguous.

  9. 9.

    The particular measures making up the index varies across individuals depending on the number of waves completed and item non-response. Several alternative methods to scoring the index were also tested and make no substantive difference to the results.

  10. 10.

    In spite of the moderate correlations between the foundations, multicollinearity does not seem to be problematic. The average variance inflation factor ranges from 1.51 to 1.52 in the key models reported below and never rises above 2.20 for any of the individual coefficients. Moreover, the results hold when omitting the controls for the remaining moral foundations.

  11. 11.

    Ideology is measured using a standard 7-point self-placement scale. Ideological extremity is measured using this same question folded at the midpoint of the scale.

  12. 12.

    Consistent with past research, both African–Americans and women hold stronger partisan identities (Burden 2008; Gerber et al. 2012; Norrander 1997).

  13. 13.

    I do not perform this analysis on the index because it is unclear how to split the measure into Democrats and Republicans given that some individuals change their partisanship over time. Ideological extremity is excluded from the models due to the collinearity with ideology that occurs after removing entire partisan groups.

  14. 14.

    In addition to the 29 vignettes used here, the study also included five vignettes measuring the Liberty foundation (Iyer et al. 2012) and 4 vignettes representing non-moral social violations. These are not used in the analysis.

  15. 15.

    These questions asked whether respondents “expect to vote in the national elections this coming November, or not?”.

  16. 16.

    The package does not allow for ordinal mediators, so linear regression is used to model partisan strength.

  17. 17.

    Indeed, in the ANES sample used here, Loyalty, and the moral foundations more generally, tend to be more strongly related to ideology than to partisanship.

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Acknowledgments

The author would like to thank Brad Jones and Spencer Piston for helpful comments. Replication materials are available on the Political Behavior Dataverse.

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Correspondence to Scott Clifford.

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Clifford, S. Individual Differences in Group Loyalty Predict Partisan Strength. Polit Behav 39, 531–552 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-016-9367-3

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Keywords

  • Partisanship
  • Partisan strength
  • Loyalty
  • Moral foundations