Party Coalitions & Partisan Behavior in the American Public
Scholars of American politics have long observed that the Democratic and Republican parties differ markedly in the types of people they attract and represent. Yet, research on the extent to which social differences between the party coalitions are consequential for citizens’ political behavior remains limited. This dissertation seeks to address this gap with three separate manuscripts. In the first study, I rely upon a series of nationally representative data sets as well as a survey experiment and demonstrate that citizens accurately perceive which social groups support each party; that affect toward various politically-aligned groups is predictive of party identification and party identification strength; and, that associating a negatively-viewed group with a party lowers evaluations of, and psychological attachment to, that party. Consistent with previous theorizing, these results provide strong evidence that affect toward politicized groups structures citizens’ partisan orientations. As such, an important implication of these findings is that the manner in which elites relate to their own party’s coalition (or, “base”) may affect partisans’ support for these elites—a proposition I test directly in the second study using a series of survey experiments as well as data from national and state-level surveys. Having found that partisans are significantly more (less) supportive of outparty (inparty) elites who demonstrate disloyalty to their party’s coalition, I report, in the third study, results from a content analysis that examined the extent to which mass media communicated relations between and within the party coalitions throughout the Obama presidency. Furthermore, I find that Republicans, while generally disinclined to consume news stories about President Obama, are particularly attracted to news stories in which Obama is reported to have alienated his political base. Taken together, the three manuscripts reveal how information regarding party coalitions can influence American public opinion, as well as how mass media supply such information to citizens. Given our present era of rising antipathy toward members of the opposing party, this dissertation offers novel contributions to our collective understanding of partisanship, motivated reasoning, and political polarization in the United States.
Committee: Jason Barabas (Chair), Stanley Feldman, Leonie Huddy, and David R. Jones (Outside Member).