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Contributing Op-Ed Writer: Which Side Are You On?

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At the same time, these “expressive” or “identity centric” partisans with college degrees have a stronger and more intense emotional investment in the outcome of elections than partisans motivated by their position on the socioeconomic ladder.

Expressive partisanship, in effect, allows the most committed to override their own circuitry and support policies antithetical to their economic interests.

“The behavior, attitudes, and convictions of strongly identified Democrats and Republicans will be driven by their political group membership,” David Rast, a professor of psychology at the University of Alberta, wrote by email:

The issue at hand will be more or less irrelevant — that is, the issue will likely only come into play when it’s a core group position (e.g., Dems being pro-choice and Reps being pro-life).

Rast added:

Outside of these few core issues, there is a small body of research showing Dems will support a Rep position on a specific issue if they think their stance is supported by their group’s leadership or by their group’s norms.

In a 2015 paper, “Expressive Partisanship: Campaign Involvement, Political Emotion, and Partisan Identity,” Leonie Huddy and Lene Aarøe, political scientists at Stony Brook University and Aarhus University in Denmark, writing with Mason, advanced the argument that

Generating anger at the opposing side is a highly effective way to elicit political engagement and action from those with expressive partisan concerns.

Huddy and her colleagues

come down firmly on the side of expressive partisanship as the primary driver of campaign involvement, especially in close elections when the threat of electoral loss looms large. These are the circumstances in which victory or defeat is most palpable and status loss or gain most obvious and dramatic.

Mason, in a paper released last month, “Ideologues Without Issues: The Polarizing Consequences of Ideological Identities,” puts this point succinctly: “Identity does not require values and policy attitudes,” she writes. Instead, it simply requires “a sense of inclusion and a sense of exclusion.”

Identification as a liberal and conservative, Mason argues, confers

a sense of group identity that is not neatly connected to any set of issue positions, but nonetheless motivates political judgment. These effects of identity-based ideology on political evaluations are psychological and emotional, and help explain how “liberals” and “conservatives” may dislike each other for reasons unconnected to their opinions.

In contrast to issue and principle-based ideology, Mason calls this “identity-based ideology.” As a result,

liberals and conservatives are distancing themselves from one another on behalf of their identity-related feelings about who is


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