Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

The Rise of Party/Leader Identification in Western Europe

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

The Rise of Party/Leader Identification in Western Europe

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article investigates the attitudinal drivers of partisanship in Western Europe, focusing in particular on the role exerted by voters' evaluation of party leaders. The cross-sectional analysis is performed on pooled national election study data from three established parliamentary democracies (Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands). Results highlight the growing statistical association between leader evaluations and voters' feelings of partisan attachment throughout the last three decades. Further analyses of selected panel data provide evidence for a causal interpretation in which voters' evaluation of party leaders plays a crucial role in shaping their feelings of attachment to parties.

Keywords

comparative political behavior, electoral change, party identification, personalization of politics, political psychology

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

Introduction

Few concepts, if any at all, have had such a big leverage in electoral research than that of party identification. Since its introduction in the mid-1950s (Campbell, Gurin, and Miller 1954), the concept has been subject to a considerable amount of attention and scholarly research (Bartle and Bellucci 2009b; Berglund et al. 2005; Budge, Crewe, and Farlie 1976; Campbell et al. 1960; Dalton and Wattenberg 2000; Fiorina 1981; Holmberg 1994; Johnston 2006; W. Miller and Shanks 1996; Richardson 1991; Schmitt and Holmberg 1995). At the heart of this enduring interest lies the fundamental observation that voters have some kind of generalized predisposition to support a particular party over time (W. Miller 1991). Although virtually all scholars agree on the need to account for these predispositions, there is widespread disagreement about its causes and how these should be interpreted and measured (Bartle and Bellucci 2009a).

In its classical formulation, party identification was conceived as "the individual's affective orientation to an important group object in his environment" (Campbell et al. 1960, 121). According to the social-psychological reading, such orientation is rooted in early socialization and based on primary group memberships (race, religion, social class). Among its crucial features, party identification was said to be stable-that is, virtually immune from short-term forces-and it was thus considered being cause (but not consequence) of less stable attitudes and opinions about, that is, candidates and issues (Johnston 2006). As explained by the authors of The American Voter, "The influence of party identification on perceptions of political objects is so great that only rarely will the individual develop a set of attitude forces that conflicts with this allegiance" (Campbell et al. 1960, 141).

However, it did not take much time before severe criticisms arose with respect to the supposed stability of party identification. Making use of richer data sets and increasingly sophisticated statistical techniques, later analyses showed that partisan ties at the individual level were much more unstable than originally thought, and indeed strongly responsive to those short-term forces that they were thought to cause (Fiorina 1981; C. Franklin and Jackson 1983; Page and Jones 1979). Moreover, sources of scholarly disagreement did not limit to the debate between Michigan scholars and the "revisionists" (Fiorina 2002). Another serious matter of dispute was related to the applicability of the concept outside the United States. In fact, the very existence of partisan identifications in European multiparty systems was at the core of many critical chapters included in Party Identification and Beyond (Budge, Crewe, and Farlie 1976). The cross-national applicability of the concept was especially contested in Thomassen's (1976) most celebrated chapter (see also Crewe 1976; Inglehart and Klingemann 1976).

As a result of the joint endeavor of U.S. and European scholars, the debate has switched the attention from party identification to partisanship more generally. …

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