A recent study found evidence that ideological views tend to shape a person’s political party support, but that party support can also lead to modest changes in a person’s views. The findings were published in the British Journal of Social Psychology.
While ideology is central to the discussion of politics, some scholars have suggested that ideology is virtually nonexistent among ordinary citizens. Instead, it has been suggested that people tend to invest in a political party with which they resonate and that party then shapes their political attitudes.
As study authors Nicole Satherley and colleagues say, the way the ideology and party choice might reinforce each other is unknown. “The extant debate raises important questions regarding the temporal ordering of ideological views and political party support,” the authors say. “Namely, do people adhere to the ideological rhetoric of their preferred party over time? Or do they form political party preferences in response to their own ideological beliefs and adjust their party support based on ideological proximity?”
To answer these questions, the researchers set out to look for longitudinal data that would allow them to examine how a person’s ideology and political party support change over time — and which comes first. The researchers analyzed data from nine waves of a nationally representative study of New Zealand adults. The study spanned from 2009 to 2017 and included a total of 31,537 respondents.
To assess political party support, respondents were asked to indicate how strongly they support the Labour Party (left-wing) and the National Party (right-wing). As measures of political ideology, the respondents completed measures of social dominance orientation (SDO) and right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) — two constructs that are linked to support for right-wing policies.
In their analysis, Satherly and colleagues looked for within-person changes in party support and ideological beliefs over time and analyzed the ordering of these variables. They found that increases in RWA and SDO preceded increases in support for the right-wing National Party. Increases in SDO also preceded decreases in support for the left-wing Labour Party.
The researchers also found evidence of a relationship running in the opposite direction — a boost in support for the National Party came before increases in RWA and SDO, and increased support for the Labour Party preceded decreases in SDO. However, this effect observed from party to ideology was about half as strong as the inverse, suggesting that ideology tends to motivate a person’s party support more strongly than the other way around.
“In other words, people tend to express support for political parties whose rhetoric resonates with their own ideological proclivities,” the researchers explain. “That said, changes in people’s support for political parties can also lead to small changes in the ideological views they express over time.” Either way, the findings offer compelling evidence that ideological beliefs are in fact relevant when it comes to an everyday person’s political attitudes.
Additionally, the findings suggest that the potential for party elites to sway citizens’ political views is limited. “Although past research demonstrates that party attachments can shape political attitudes and preferences, our results identify ideological views as a boundary to this effect . . . party cues and frames are unlikely to lead to fundamental changes to (but rather, may reinforce) people’s ideological beliefs over time,” Satherly and associates say.
The researchers acknowledge that their results can only speak to annual associations between changes in political party support and changes in ideology. They say that a difference in the observed time lag might lead to either greater or smaller effects.
The study, “Ideology before party: Social dominance orientation and right-wing authoritarianism temporally precede political party support”, was authored by Nicole Satherley, Chris G. Sibley, and Danny Osborne.