Get access

Changing Sides or Changing Minds? Party Identification and Policy Preferences in the American Electorate


  • Earlier versions of this article were presented at the Political Science Departmental Seminar Series at Florida State University, The American Politics Workshop at the University of Maryland, the American Politics Research Group at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the Midwest Political Science Association Annual Meetings of 1999 and 2000. We are grateful to those who attended each presentation and offered feedback on the project, as well as to the anonymous reviewers—the article is much improved as a result.

Thomas M. Carsey is professor of political science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306 ( Geoffrey C. Layman is associate professor of government and politics, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742 (


Scholars have long debated the individual-level relationship between partisanship and policy preferences. We argue that partisanship and issue attitudes cause changes in each other, but the pattern of influence varies systematically. Issue-based change in party identification should occur among individuals who are aware of party differences on an issue and find that issue to be salient. Individuals who are aware of party differences, but do not attach importance to the issue, should evidence party-based issue change. Those lacking awareness of party differences on an issue should show neither effect. We test our account by examining individuals' party identifications and their attitudes on abortion, government spending and provision of services, and government help for African Americans using the 1992-94-96 National Election Study panel study, finding strong support for our argument. We discuss the implications of our findings both for the microlevel study of party identification and the macrolevel analysis of partisan change.