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Does Choice Bring Loyalty? Electoral Participation and the Development of Party Identification


  • I am grateful to Josh Angrist, John Bartle, Neal Beck, Fabrizio Bernardi, Jørgen Bølstad, Cees van der Eijk, Goeff Evans, Don Green, Dominik Hangartner, Simon Hix, Nasos Roussias, Ignacio Sanchez-Cuenca, Jas Sekhon, Eric Shickler, Josh Tucker, Adam Ziegfeld, and seminar participants at the University of California, Berkeley, the European University Institute in Florence, the Juan March Institute in Madrid, Nuffield College in Oxford, London School of Economics and Political Science, the University of Essex, and the University of Sheffield for very helpful comments. The article was much improved as a result of the comments by the editor and the anonymous reviewers. I am particularly indebted to Mark Franklin and especially to Laura Stoker for their invaluable support at various stages of this project. The usual disclaimer applies. Datasets and code to replicate all the results of this study can be found in the AJPS Dataverse network and at the author's personal website,


Party identification is known to influence almost all aspects of political life. How this attachment develops across the adult life cycle, however, remains unknown. I argue that people reinforce their partisan predispositions by voting for their preferred party. Voting entails a choice over a set of alternatives. This choice is likely to induce rationalization. In so doing, it provides signals of group identity, which in turn strengthens people's partisan ties. Testing this hypothesis is made difficult because it implies a reciprocal relationship between partisanship and vote choice. I address this problem by using vote eligibility as an instrument of vote in a sample of almost equally aged respondents. The results indicate that elections fortify prior partisan orientations. Moreover, they do so not by increasing political information. Rather, it is the act of voting for a party that, itself, bolsters partisan attachment. This act leaves a long-lasting imprint on people's partisan outlooks.

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