Party Identification and Personal Identity

October 7, 2020

Sine the 1960’s, political scientists have concluded that partisanship is acquired mainly through socialization and predominately from our parents. By the time of early adulthood, most people’s political beliefs have hardened. That doesn’t mean some people can’t change later in life, but it is more the exception than the rule.

A recent national pilot survey included some questions on whether voters party identification is an important part of their personal identity. Personal identity is a concept that a person develops over a lifetime that determines who you are.

Sone identities, however, such as the color of your skin or where you grew up are out of your control. Other identities may evolve over time such as religious beliefs, but generally most people’s identities last a lifetime.

But what about partisan beliefs? When you identify with a party do you develop personal identity with it?

The understanding of personal identity and political beliefs is not well studied. But in a recent pilot survey (March, 2020) by the American National Election Studies, they did ask several questions about personal identity and party choice.

One of those questions, asks about the importance of party to their personal identity. In Table 1 below, you will see that only 19% said it wasn’t important at all.

How important is being [a Democrat/ Republican/ Independent] to your identity?
1. Not at all important19.0 %
2. A little important20.0 %
3. Moderately important27.0 %
4. Very important9.0 %
5. Extremely important16.2 %

More importantly, more than half (52%) said that it was moderately to extremely important to their identity. To demonstrate what that means, they used this follow-up question.

How often do you think about the fact that your are [a Democrat/a Republican/an Independent]?

1. All of the time20.0 %
2. Often22.0 %
3. Sometimes29.4 %
4. Rarely21.0 %
5. Never7.6 %

The fact that someone thinks of their party all the time seems unusual. Yet 20 percent said that was the case. And another 22% said they often think of their party identification as well.

To demonstrate how it affects a person’s political identification, I have compared this identity rating with their partisanship choice, from strong Republican to strong Democrat, as shown below in Chart 2.


The rating scale for personal identity ranges from 1 to 4, with one meaning not important at all and 4 extremely important. In other words, a higher personal identity score shows stronger personal identification. For example, strong Republicans have a personal identity score of 3.48, which shows that strong Republicans intensely identify with their party.

But for weak Republicans and Democrats, the identity scores are lower, at 2.03 and 2.14 respectively.

In other words, the higher the personal identity score the more intense their party strength. Conversely, the lower the score the less intense is their party strength.

But the biggest surprise is how Independents rate themselves. Pure Independents score 2.87, followed by Independents that lean toward either Republicans or Democrats.

What this shows is that the concept of “independence” is an important personal identification for some voters.

This is surprising since their is no party called Independent. (I don’t count the American Independent Party in this context.)

But to some voters, being a political independent is an important personal identity. Unencumbered by partisan beliefs, they can make choices on the candidates based on their position on the issues and not what party they belong. And it is how they see themselves.

In a political sense, that seems unusual, but for the independent voter it makes all the sense in the world.

The fact that many Republicans and Democrats consider their personal identity as a “Republican” or a “Democrat” explains why many react angrily when discussing politics with the opposite side.

I remember my mother telling me never to discuss religion or politics with my friends in the neighborhood. Now I know why. Take her advice and keep your personal identities to yourself. Be safe…

By Jim Kane

Jim Kane is a pollster and media advisor, and was for fifteen years an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida. Kane is founder of the polling firm USAPoll and served as the Director of the Florida Voter Poll. His political clients have included both Republican and Democratic candidates, including the Republican Party of Florida, and both the Sun-Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel newspapers. At the University of Florida, Professor Kane taught graduate level courses in political science on Survey Research, Lobbying and Special Interest Groups in America, Political Campaigning, and Political Behavior. In addition to his professional and academic career, Jim Kane has been actively involved in local and state policy decisions. He was elected to the Broward County Soil and Water Conservation Board (1978-1982) and the Port Everglades Authority (1988-1994). Kane also served as an appointed member of the Broward County Planning Council (1995-2003), Broward County Management Review Committee (Chair, 1990-1991), Broward County Consumer Protection Board (1976-1982), and the Broward County School Board Consultants Review Committee (1986-1990).

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