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Expressive Politics as (Costly) Norm Following

Abstract

When deciding whether to support a political candidate, policy or cause, individuals are observed to prioritize the expression of their political identities. They even knowingly incur personal costs (a lower wage, strained family relations) to do so. We argue that viewing political identities as social identities that impart norms on who or what one ought to support can help explain such costly political expression. Through population-based survey experiments, we show that individuals are aware of the norms attached to their political identities; will knowingly choose norm-compliance at personal cost; and that this costly political identity expression varies with norm salience and strength. Our results imply that as political identities strengthen, group norm compliance will increase, even at a cost, rendering compromise between political groups less likely.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Pickup, Mark, 2020, "Replication Data for: Expressive Politics as (Costly) Norm Following", https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/IJIBH3, Harvard Dataverse, V1.

  2. 2.

    That said, the role of norms attached to other social identities, such as race (e.g., White et al. 2014) and non-political identities created in the lab (Bassi et al. 2011) has been tested. Further, the role of norms in voter turnout is well demonstrated (e.g., Bryan et al. 2011).

  3. 3.

    We do not directly address competing identity-based norms with our experiments, but the implications can also shed light on how such trade-offs would be resolved.

  4. 4.

    For many in the US, ideological and partisan identities have become so enmeshed (e.g., Mason 2018a)—with their liberal identity interchangeable with their Democrat identity or conservative identity interchangeable with Republican—that separating the norms of the two identities may not be practical.

  5. 5.

    This is supported by evidence from Mason (2018b) that people readily recognize those on their own side of the spectrum as an in-group and those on the other side as an out-group. Our own data shows that approximately 78% in the US and 70% in Britain express an ideological identity and that it is stable over time (see Online Appendix 1).

  6. 6.

    Kinder and Kalmoe (2017) also address this apparent inconsistency. Using observational data, they argue that although ideological identity is a cause of political behavior, it is mostly a consequence. We agree that it is both, but by using experimental data, we test how ideological identity can be an important cause of behavior.

  7. 7.

    Information on the sampling procedures and field dates for this and the other studies are included in Online Appendix 3.

  8. 8.

    The social issue items were adapted from the Wilson and Patterson (1968) conservatism measure.

  9. 9.

    On the differences between measures of norms and personal preferences see: Groenendyk et al. (2020)

  10. 10.

    Note: the differences are only statistically significant at the 0.05 level for about 1/3 of the issues for conservative, liberal and right-wing identifiers, and 2/3 of issues for left-wing identifiers.

  11. 11.

    In Online Appendix 6, we explore the dimensions of the conservative/right-wing normative expectations and discover four, which we label fiscal, law and order, cultural, and religious. We also demonstrate that most ideologues have expectations in line with their group on most issues, and this is greatest for those with the strongest ideological identity.

  12. 12.

    Bassi et al. (2011) also incentivize experimental subjects to vote against an identity group, but they used non-political identities created solely for the experiment. They therefore cannot manipulate pre-existing norms and test the norm mechanism.

  13. 13.

    Study 2 has an oversample of left-wing identifiers. We estimate the oversampling to be 5 percentage points.

  14. 14.

    Respondents had previously indicated whether they identified as ‘Very left-wing’ (6.8%), ‘Fairly left-wing’ (26.4%), ‘Slightly left-of-centre’ (28.5%), ‘Slightly right-of-centre’ (22.3%), ‘Fairly right-wing’ (13.2%), or ‘Very right-wing’ (2.8%). Those that answered ‘Centre’ were not included in the study.

  15. 15.

    When right-wing Brits were asked about increased spending on social welfare in Study 1, the norm was unclear but here when it is paired with an increase in taxes, the norm becomes much clearer.

  16. 16.

    We use a t-statistic. A reader may be concerned by the bimodal distribution of the data. However, given we have very large sample sizes, the sampling distribution for the (difference-of-means) test statistic should be normal and a t-statistic or z-score should be appropriate, regardless of the distribution of the data. This is borne out by the fact that the results are identical when using a nonparametric Fisher-Pitman permutation test. Tests of significance are one-tailed in accordance with our hypothesis.

  17. 17.

    Tested using a difference-in-differences t-statistic.

  18. 18.

    Online Appendix 9 provides additional details on how the treatments changed the distribution of responses.

  19. 19.

    Online Appendix 9 provides additional details on how the treatments changed the distribution of responses.

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Acknowledgements

This work was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Grant 435-2016-1173. We thank seminar audiences at the Canadian Political Science Association, the American Political Science Association, Toronto Political Behaviour Workshop, Stony Brook University, the 2018 IFREE Graduate Student Workshop, the University of Michigan, the University of California-Irvine, and the University of Dayton for helpful comments. We also benefitted from discussions with Eric Groenendyk, J. Scott Matthews, Eric Guntermann, Stanley Feldman, Leonie Huddy, and Michelangelo Landgrave. All remaining errors are our own.

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Pickup, M., Kimbrough, E.O. & de Rooij, E.A. Expressive Politics as (Costly) Norm Following. Polit Behav (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-020-09667-6

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Keywords

  • Political identities
  • Social identity theory
  • Social norms
  • Expressive politics
  • Political decision-making