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Changing Parties, Changing Partisans: The Personalization of Partisan Attachments in Western Europe



This article investigates the effects of the deep transformations in the relationship between West European class-mass parties and their electorates. Particular attention is paid to the changing nature of individuals' partisan attachments, which are hypothesized to be less rooted in social and ideological identities and more in individual attitudes towards increasingly visible partisan objects. The main objective of this article is to examine the influence of voters' attitudes towards one of these “objects”—the party leaders—in determining psychological attachments with the parties. The analysis concentrates on the two main cleavage-based parties in Britain, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. The empirical findings highlight the declining ability of social identities (class and religious) to predict individual feelings of partisan attachment, as well as the growing influence of voters' attitudes towards party leaders. The concluding section points to the crucial role that political psychology can play in our understanding of democratic elections' outcomes.