1.      Aim and research problem

 

The following paper
delves into the concept of party identification (PI) and tries to distinguish
what are the primary reasons which fortify or diminish the emotional attachment
of a person to a certain party. The decline of the party activism has been
extensively studied and well explored (see Whiteley, 2011), however it is not
explicitly elaborated at present. This issue should be touched carefully as
parties still play a crucial role in the governance of contemporary
democracies, therefore any significant change in party structure or membership
base may have impacts for the future of democracy. The relationships between citizens and the state are mostly crafted by political
parties, for that reason some scholars did argue (ibid) that such decline may have negative repercussions on civil society as it
worsens those essential bonds.

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After discussing the
concept of PI followed by theoretical background, some research questions are
put under study. First and foremost, what can be the undermining factor for
party identification? In search of causal connections and based on prior
studies, paper singles out the phenomenon of “personalization” of politics and
elaborates on clarifying the connection between aforementioned two concepts.

In the beginning, it is
noteworthy to outline whether politics are undergoing the process of
“personalization” and if so, does it affect the party identification? In which
way does this process take place and does it translate into voter behavior,
namely choice in elections? This work addresses those questions. In addition,
there are certain techniques of measurement mentioned and highlighted which can
be highly beneficial to test the presence or absence of certain phenomenon and
later, identifying the link between them.

 

 

2.     Overview of the literature

 

2.1
Party Identification.   How can PI be defined so that it
is rendered measurable? This question led to heated discussions among political
scientists more than 50 years ago, ever since the notion was first employed in
terms of studying voting behavior and elections (Campbell et al., 1954, 1960). The American Voter (Campbell et al., 1960), portrays PID as a form
of group identification that finds its
first development primarily from agent of socialization, namely family. However, “identity is not a
badge which people carry around with them unchanged. It is much more like a set
of claims they make according to the context in which they find themselves, be
these cultural, political, and so on” (McCrone, 2002, p. 302). In the classic conceptualization, PI
can be defined as an enduring sense of psychological attachment to a political
party that shapes political perception and judgment (Campbell et al. 1960, p.
121). It functions as a strong predisposition that
guides information processing and decision
making across multiple contexts (Chen and Goren, 2016, p.704). As such, this particular measure
distinguishes positive sentiments towards an individual party. In contrast to
classical perspectives, which stress the causal priority of partisanship,
revisionist models see PI as responsive to short-term political forces. In this
frame, PI functions partly as a “running tally” whereby citizens
update their partisanship to reflect their stands on salient issues (Franklin
and Jackson 1983, p. 967).

Party identification represents a bedrock predisposition in the minds of citizens.
Classic and contemporary works establish that
partisan attachments develop early in the life cycle, grow
stronger as the years roll by, hold steady over time, and
wield pervasive influence over political judgment (Bartels
2002, p. 137; Campbell et al. 1960).  In this paper, PI refers to
psychological attachment to a political party which determines vote choice.

 

2.2 “Personalization”
of Politics. “Many voters profess to cast ballots for the person, not the party”
(Hayes, 2009, p. 231). The reasons that people can ascribe their votes in terms
of personal characteristics can be leadership skills, charisma, talking habits
and the like. Sometimes, those characteristics may outweigh the partisan
loyalty. Todorov et al. (2005, p. 1623) find that people make “unreflective
trait inferences” from candidate photographs, which pretty much determined
their vote choice and election outcomes in the end. In other number of studies (Barrett
and Barrington 2005; Rosenberg et al. 1986), the importance of visual
portrayals, as well as facial expressions (Sullivan and Masters, 1988) of
candidates have been demonstrated in relation to the vote choice. In another
words, image does not amount to the every aspect of vote preference, but it
certainly matters.

            In
conceptual terms, the personalization
of politics (PoP) encapsulates the ” process in which the political weight
of the individual actor in the political process increases over time, while the
centrality of the political group (i.e., political party) declines” (Rahat
and Sheafer 2007, p. 65) and, therefore, is becomes the incentive of voting.
This conceptualization is employed in this paper for further research of
connections.

 

2.3
Chasing after the link between PI and PoP. The final accord of the cold war has been
accompanied by the erosion of sociopolitical alignments, especially in
industrial democracies (see Dalton and Wattenberg, 2000). On the other hand, it triggered individualization of vote choices, which concomitantly invoked
“a shift away from a style of electoral decision-making based on social
group and/or party cues toward a more individualized and inwardly oriented
style of political choice,” primarily accentuating on “policy
preferences, performance judgments, or candidate images” (Dalton, 1996, p.
346 quoted in Garzia 2013b, p. 2).

It was claimed that, PI is quite stable through the
lifespan, and was believed to be only slightly affected by variables like political ideology, vote
choice, and opinions regarding ongoing political and social issues. This perspective is the main
leitmotif of the Michigan school, which also asserts the idea that voters are
generally prone to rely on party leaders “to guide them in their political outlooks” (Bell & Kandler, 2015, p. 136).

Some scholars investigated
whether there is a connection between PI and PoP, and if so, to what degree. The study of Alberici &
Catellani (2012), which entailed large-scale electoral-panel survey (ITANES,
ITAlian National Election Studies), delved into the topic of candidate traits,
more precisely the authors tried to distinguish if there were significant
implications of candidate profiles in relation to voting choice between early
and late deciders. Eventually, the results demonstrated that personal characteristics
of candidates affected the voting preferences of early deciders and this relationship
was stronger in case of late ones. However, candidate profiles had an influence
after considering the ideological and economic aspects of party politics (p.
619). 
Moreover, “viewers
evaluate political candidates not based on what they say, but on how they act,
move, behave and whether they are exciting” (Mendelsohn, 1994, p. 86).

            Hayes (2009) put the personalization hypothesis
to an empirical test, examining the salience of candidates’ personal qualities
and their influence on vote choice over 52 years of presidential elections in
the USA.  The author used National
Election Survey data to test the hypothesis. Firstly, the survey was conducted,
then the answers were to fall one of the five categories, one of them being
“personal characteristics”, to show its influence on party identification
resulting in voters’ choice. It was concluded that while personality
consistently affects voting behavior, its influence is not significantly larger
than it was in the 1950s (Hayes, 2009, p. 232).

Garzia (2013b) asserts
the idea early that leader evaluations can shape (or at least affect) voters’
party identification. Key put forward rather a cognitive view of partisanship suggesting
that “like or dislike of a political personality … bring shifts in party
identification” (Key, 1968; quoted in
Clarke et al. 2004, p. 27).  In their
seminal contribution, Page and Jones (1979) provide empirical evidence that
party loyalties “do not function purely as fixed determinants of the vote;
those loyalties can themselves be affected by attitudes toward the current
candidates” (Page and Jones 1979, p. 1088 quoted in Garzia, 2013b, p. 5).

            The study of Garzia in cross-country most
different systems design (Britain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands),
provides unequivocal confirmation of the “personalization hypothesis”. When it
comes to partisanship, voters’ evaluation of party leaders appears to have
become the most powerful driver of partisan alignments at the individual level (Garzia,
2013, p. 541).

And since for most
political scientists “the policy-oriented vote is a defining
characteristic of that mythical specimen, the classic democratic citizen” (Carmines
and Stimson 1980, p. 79), candidate personality is taken as a substandard
criterion for a vote choice (Hayes, 2009, p. 232).

 

 

3.      Hypothesis/research questions

 

A party identification can serve as a cognitive heuristic that helps citizens to make
sense of the complex political world and guides their
voting decisions (Lau and Redlawsk 2001, p. 964). In this paper, I am trying
to demonstrate the link between PI and PoP, namely are those phenomenon
interrelated and if so, how do they impact on each other? Does PoP lead to
lessening PI? What is the rationale behind of that assumption?

            It can be asserted that in contemporary world
of E-technologies, personal characteristics have been put forward and voters
are more interested in personalities, rather than party labels or policy
choices. Furthermore, a large body of work suggests that voters see politicians’
personal characteristics, both inside and out, as relevant. Perceptions of
candidates’ character traits – whether they are believed to be strong leaders,
caring and compassionate, moral and decent, honest and trustworthy – have a
strong influence on voting (e.g., Funk 1999; Hayes 2005; Kinder et al. 1980;
Stokes 1966;).

Indeed, it does not seem
unreasonable to argue that nowadays political leaders have become important in
their own right “by personifying the policy platforms of their respective
parties” (McAllister 2007, p. 574).

The reason is quite
obvious; things like ideologies, issues, and performance assessments are time-
and energy-consuming, therefore not desirable for further processing by most of
the voters (Shively, 1979; Pierce, 1993). Party leaders, on the contrary, can
be easily evaluated using inferential strategies of person perception that are
constantly employed in everyday life (Kinder, 1986). This finding links well
with the notion of candidate-centered politics (Wattenberg, 1991), whereby “voters’
attention is thought to shift from political parties and issues to individual
politicians and their personal characteristics” (Garzia, 2013a, p.83).   

With that said,
hypothesis in this work is: increase in
the degree of PoP cause the decrease in the degree of PI. It may be
foolhardy to conclude that the connection is absolute, bearing that in mind, I
have included the degree in the hypotheses, proposed concepts are not
dichotomous, as the PI and PoP can be expressed to some extent. I anticipate
that when voters are more attracted to party leaders and fascinated by personal
characteristics, their level of attachment, namely PI, undergoes the process of
decline.

 

4.     
Choice of variables and indicators (Overview of the source data)

 

            Irrespective of what the
specific research aims may be, and nevertheless of what unit of analysis is to
be chosen, and even whether the approach will be qualitative or quantitative,
it is essential that the concept should be rendered measurable. Therefore, the
process of operationalization involves compiling a list of substantive
characteristics denoted by the concept for the purpose of measurement. PI and PoP are
assessed based on specific datasets. It should be noted that study is concerned
with the individual unit of study, as it tries to identify the link between PI
of individuals and how personalized their vote can be.

Electoral
turnout does not specifically serve well as a measure. It is relatively ill-suited as an indicator for
individual party decline because it lacks content validity. This is because it
says little about the individual’s attitudes towards a specific party
(participation in elections does not necessarily mean that voter feels
connected to certain party, but rather choosing the best out of proposed
options). However, electoral support is also included as a measurement of party
identification, if the direction can be specified. Maybe, casting a vote is not
the indicator of PI, but if a person identifies with a certain party, that
should supposedly lead to voting in elections. So, some aspects of electoral
turnout can be valuable.

To measure PI, standard
11-point thermometer scales anchored by “strongly dislike” and “strongly like”
at the minimum (0) and maximum (10) scale points respectively. Exclusivist
party identification (that is not being closer to a certain party, but strongly
identifying with a certain one) can be measured by adaptations of the
exclusivist Michigan question, which was primarily designed for American voters
and intended to measure PI either as Democrats, Republicans or Independents.
However, the concept and the connotations it carries should be emphasized; PI
may mean completely different thing in the USA, than in other parts of the
world or even in Europe, so Michigan question cannot be a valid measurement for
the purposes of this particular study. Where similar surveys of PI are repeated
over time in one country and show large shifts in the strength of partisanship,
we can use them as indirect indicators of party decline (Wilensky, 2002,
p.402). In addition to the thermometer scale, some questions from Estonian
National Elections Survey 2011 (ENES) by Mihkel Solvak can be included in the
study: Q20. ARE YOU CLOSE TO ANY POLITICAL PARTY (Do you usually think of
yourself as close to any particular party?) Possible Answers: 1. YES 5. NO 7.
VOLUNTEERED: REFUSED 8. VOLUNTEERED: DON’T KNOW, 9.  MISSING. Q20a. DO YOU FEEL CLOSER TO ONE PARTY
( Do you feel yourself a little closer to one of the
political parties than the others?) Possible Answers: 1. YES 5. NO 7.
VOLUNTEERED: REFUSED 8.    VOLUNTEERED:
DON’T KNOW 9.    Missing. Q20b. WHICH
PARTY DO YOU FEEL CLOSEST TO ( Which party do you
feel closest to?). Q20c. DEGREE OF CLOSENESS TO THIS PARTY ( Do you feel very close to this party, somewhat close, or
not very close?) Possible answers: 1. VERY CLOSE 2. SOMEWHAT CLOSE 3. NOT VERY
CLOSE

7. VOLUNTEERED:
REFUSED 8. VOLUNTEERED: DON’T KNOW 9.    MISSING. I believe those set of questions
capture all possible variations across answers and can be rendered as valid and
reliable way of measuring PI.

For the electoral
support that I included in party identification, the Global Elections Database,
formerly known as the Constituency-level Elections (CLE) Dataset, can be valid
and reliable source, however, it takes the results from central election
committees of each country. The dataset provides national and subnational
election data at the national and district level of analysis for countries
around the world. The data are based on countries’ official election results
that have been collected from various government institutions (e.g. electoral
commissions, ministries of interior, statistical offices and legislative
bodies). The dataset includes election results for all political parties that
compete in an election. It does not include an “other” category unless the
official electoral data contains one, nor does not impose a threshold on
parties in terms of the number of votes and seats that they have to win in order
to be included in the dataset (CLE, updated in 2017).

For the purpose of measuring
personalization of politics, I am going to use the same technique as Hayes did
use in her study of PI and PoP, but as the survey was conducted in the USA,
questions are therefore related to US voters. In my case, question can be
accommodated to national or local conditions. Each election year since 1952,
the NES (National Elections Survey) has asked voters to list any reasons for
supporting or opposing the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates.
The question takes this form: “Now I’d like to ask you about the good and
bad points of the major candidates for President. Is there anything in
particular about John Kerry that might make you want to vote for him?”
(Hayes, 2009, p. 237). Voters are asked to list up to as many as five reasons
to vote for the candidate, and to then give as many as five reasons to vote
against him. Respondents are queried about all leading candidates from each
party. The “likes/dislikes” batteries form the foundation for the
analysis. They serve as measures of what voters consider salient in making a
vote choice. Because the questions are open-ended, voters can say anything they
choose, indicating, at least in theory, what they truly think is important.

I collapse these codes
into five broad categories of responses, the most important being
“Personal Characteristics,” which captures likes/dislikes dealing
with candidate appearance, personality, or image. I created four other
categories, grouping together comments about a candidate’s level of experience,
policy issues, party connections, and a residual category for mentions not
accounted for by the other four. (ibid, p. 238).

            There can be some issues regarding
validity of this methodology, however, it is considered, that respondents are
not willing to emphasize personal characteristics of their vote choice if the
question is direct, so making them to think about traits of character for
leading candidates sheds light on the importance of personality in deciding
vote preferences.