Ideological congruency, social group linkage or the best-evaluated party of all? Why partisans identify with a political party

Abstract

The concept of party identification is one of the most used indicators in election studies worldwide. However, not much is known about the meaning of party identification. This article explores why adherents identify with a political party. Based on existing notions of partisanship, a coding scheme is derived and an open-ended question from a large-N German survey is analyzed. By using Latent Class Analysis, seven meaning types of adherents are identified whose shares differ heavily by party. Most adherents base their identification either on ideological grounds or evaluative reasons, which has a meaningful impact on the parties’ possibilities for ideological change and partisan stability.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In this paper, I use content, meaning, and reasons interchangeably.

  2. 2.

    Five answer categories were provided for the question “Why do you prefer this party?”, two were used for coding ideological adherents (“I like the ideas for which the party stands”) and pragmatic adherents (“The politics of the party is to the advantage of me and my family.”) In addition, open-ended answers to the questions” What was the main reason why you voted the way you did?” were coded. Using further answers to closed-ended questions, an index was calculated for each of the three motivational types (Borre und Katz 1973: 110, FN 25).

  3. 3.

    Campbell et al. (1960: 33) elaborate in detail on social group linkage: Because of party ID’s back reference to socio-structural factors, that are arranged before party ID in the funnel of causality, party ID is linked indirectly to social groups. Therefore, this meaning facet should be seen as part of the socio-psychological notion.

  4. 4.

    “Many people in the Federal Republic lean toward a particular party for a long time, although they may occasionally vote for a different party” already suggests that the identification party is usually voted for in elections.

  5. 5.

    For replication analyses, an anonymized data-set is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.7910/DVN/PZ9RMM.

  6. 6.

    Although party ID is often measured at the beginning (e.g. UK), this order is the common placement in Germany.

  7. 7.

    The original German question wording was: “Wir würden gerne analysieren, was Personen meinen, wenn sie sagen, dass sie einer politischen Partei zuneigen. Wie ist das bei Ihnen? Was meinen Sie damit? Können Sie uns kurz Ihre Verbindung zur [≪Name der Identifikationspartei≫] beschreiben?“.

  8. 8.

    Various studies analyze the effects of the appearance of text boxes on the quality and quantity of responses (e.g. Christian et al. 2009; Smyth et al. 2009). It seems that using a bigger box may lead to a lesser quality of answers/that people add statements not exactly related to the question and smaller boxes may lessen item non-response.

  9. 9.

    Another possible approach for this study could have been topic modelling which was also conducted. However, as answers were usually short, often contained spelling mistakes, and had to be interpreted, it was decided to use manual coding.

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Acknowledgements

Research funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, Grant Az. 20.12.0.164. The author is grateful to participants and discussants of this paper, mainly Achim Goerres and Martin Schultze as well as to Jakob Kemper, Anna Schley, Hans-Peter Schreiber and Rene Selbach for research assistance.

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Correspondence to Sabrina J. Mayer.

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Mayer, S.J. Ideological congruency, social group linkage or the best-evaluated party of all? Why partisans identify with a political party. Qual Quant 53, 297–313 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11135-018-0753-2

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Keywords

  • Party identification
  • Latent Class Analysis
  • Meaning
  • Partisanship
  • Adherents
  • Germany