Longitudinal study explores how ideological views strengthen support for political parties, and vice versa


A recent study found that ideological views tend to shape a person’s support for a political party, but that support can also lead to modest changes in a person’s views. The results were published in the British Journal of Social Psychology.

While ideology is central to the policy discussion, some scholars have suggested that ideology is virtually non-existent among ordinary citizens. Instead, it has been suggested that people tend to invest in a political party that they resonate with and that party then shapes their political attitudes.

As study authors Nicole Satherley and colleagues say, how ideology and party choice might be mutually reinforcing is unknown. “The current debate raises important questions about the temporal order of ideological views and support for political parties,” say the authors. “Namely, do people adhere to the ideological rhetoric of their favorite party over time? Or do they form preferences for political parties in response to their own ideological beliefs and adjust their party support based on ideological proximity? “

To answer these questions, the researchers looked for longitudinal data that would allow them to examine how a person’s ideology and political party support evolves over time – and what comes first. The researchers analyzed data from nine waves of a nationally representative study of New Zealand adults. The study ran from 2009 to 2017 and included a total of 31,537 respondents.

To assess support for political parties, respondents were asked to indicate the extent to which they support the Labor Party (left) and the National Party (right). As measures of political ideology, respondents supplemented measures of social dominance (SDO) and right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) – two concepts related to supporting right-wing policies.

In their analysis, Satherly and her colleagues looked for within-person changes in party support and ideological beliefs over time and analyzed the order of these variables. They found that the increase in RWAs and SDOs preceded the increase in support for the National Right Party. SDO increases also preceded waning support for the left-wing Labor Party.

Researchers also found evidence of a relationship going in the opposite direction – an increase in support for the National Party came before the increase in the RWA and SDO, and increased support for the Labor Party preceded the decrease in the SDO. However, this observed party effect to ideology was about half as strong as the reverse, suggesting that ideology tends to motivate a person’s party support more strongly than the reverse.

“In other words, people tend to express support for political parties whose rhetoric resonates with their own ideological leanings,” the researchers explain. “That said, changes in people’s support for political parties can also result in small changes in the ideological views they express over time.” Either way, the results offer compelling evidence that ideological beliefs are in fact relevant when it comes to the political attitudes of an ordinary person.

In addition, the results suggest that the potential of party elites to influence the political opinions of citizens is limited. “Although previous research shows that party attachments can shape political attitudes and preferences, our results identify ideological views as a limitation in this regard. . . Party benchmarks and frameworks are unlikely to lead to fundamental changes (but may instead reinforce) people’s ideological beliefs over time, ”Satherly and associates say.

The researchers agree that their results can only speak of the annual associations between changes in support for political parties and changes in ideology. They say that a difference in the time period observed could lead to more or less significant effects.

The study, “Ideology before the party: the orientation towards social domination and right-wing authoritarianism temporally precede support for political partiesWas written by Nicole Satherley, Chris G. Sibley and Danny Osborne.


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