Party Identification, Issue Attitudes, and the Dynamics of Political Debate


  • Logan Dancey is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455 ( Paul Goren is Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455 (

  • We thank Marc Hetherington, Gary Jacobson, the three anonymous reviewers, and Marianne Stewart for their comments and suggestions on how to improve earlier versions of the manuscript. The authors’ names are listed alphabetically. They contributed equally to the article, including any remaining errors.


This article investigates whether media coverage of elite debate surrounding an issue moderates the relationship between individual-level partisan identities and issue preferences. We posit that when the news media cover debate among partisan elites on a given issue, citizens update their party identities and issue attitudes. We test this proposition for a quartet of prominent issues debated during the first Clinton term: health care reform, welfare reform, gay rights, and affirmative action. Drawing on data from the Vanderbilt Television News Archives and the 1992-93-94-96 NES panel, we demonstrate that when partisan debate on an important issue receives extensive media coverage, partisanship systematically affects—and is affected by—issue attitudes. When the issue is not being contested, dynamic updating between party ties and issue attitudes ceases.