Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Do Abortion Attitudes Lead to Party Switching?

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Do Abortion Attitudes Lead to Party Switching?

Article excerpt

The notion that issues and ideology can move partisanship remains controversial. The authors explore the stronger claim that issues can lead people to switch political parties and whether the effect of abortion attitudes is asymmetrical (i.e., abortion attitudes may influence party switching in only one direction). They show that in several short-term National Election Studies panels, pro-life Democrats were significantly more likely than other Democrats to become Republicans, but pro-choice Republicans were not likely to become Democrats. However, using panel data over a long time frame, 1982 to 1997, the authors also demonstrate that the cumulative effect of abortion attitudes led prolife Democrats and pro-choice Republicans to switch parties.

Keywords: party identification; abortion; party switching; changes in party identification

During football season, discussions of upcoming games are frequently pitched as a clash between the "irresistible force" and the "unmovable object." Academic discussions of the relationship between partisanship and deeply held political views use different words but paint a similar picture. Partisanship is the unmovable object, a stable orientation inherited through socialization and reinforced through social identity networks. Yet some issues are also deeply rooted in central moral and religious values and reinforced by social identities and are used by political elites to mobilize support. What happens when the irresistible force of a deeply held political issue clashes with the unmovable force of partisanship?

The relationship between partisanship and strongly held political attitudes has been the subject of debate for nearly fifty years. The American Voter argued that partisanship was a deeply held, enduring psychological attachment mat influenced attitudes toward candidates and issues (Campbell et al. 1960). But a revisionist literature in the 1980s and 1990s suggested Üiat partisanship was more malleable and mat individuals might alter dieir partisanship based on campaign events (Allsop and Weisberg 1988), economic conditions and evaluations of me president (MacKuen, Erikson, and Stimson 1989), ideology, parents' political activity and age (Clark et al. 1991), and retrospective evaluations of the economy (Fiorina 1981).

More recently, a series of studies by Donald Green and colleagues (Green, Palmquist, and Schickler 2002; Green and Palmquist 1990, 1994) argued that party identification is a deeply rooted social identity, similar to ethnic and religious identities, that is relatively impervious to outside forces. They charge that previous studies that showed that partisanship responded to issues and candidates were the result of measurement error and that once measurement error is controlled for, party identification is largely unchanged by issue positions.

Even the most ardent proponents of partisanship as an unmovable object acknowledge that issues can at times influence partisanship. Campbell et al. (1960, 135) suggested that issues that are inconsistent with partisanship can "exert some pressure on the individual's basic partisan commitment. If this pressure is intense enough, a stable partisan identification may actually be changed." And Green and Palmquist (1994, 456) acknowledge that "some dataset yet unanalyzed may turn up evidence of micropartisan adjustment in response to issues, candidates, performance, or voting behavior."

But other research continues to suggest that positions on issues can over time influence partisanship. Several studies have argued that ideological identities can influence partisan ones. Putz (2002) shows that individuals adjusted their partisanship in the early to mid-1990s to bring it more in line with their ideology More broadly, Abramowitz and Saunders (1998) argue that the increasing correlation between ideology and partisanship over time is almost entirely because of citizens adjusting their partisanship to match their ideological positions. …

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