The American Voter, then.

Angus Campbell, Philip Converse, Warren Miller and Donald Stokes.

The American Voter, Chapters 6 & 7

 Research question:

What factors contribute to the vote (Chapter 6)? And, what factors affect political leanings of voters (Chapter 7)?


They use survey data from 1948, 1952, and 1956 to draw their conclusions.

Chapter 6:

General observations about American voters indicate that partisan preferences are stable between elections (120). This party alliance is important to consider when looking at the attitude and behavior of voters. Campbell, Converse, Miller and Stokes interest on party identification centers primarily on the role of the party to supply cues to voters, which voters may use to evaluate candidates and other elements of politics (128). For example, “party identification did color attitudes toward foreign issues in some measures” (131).

However, they found that party identification did “not account for all aspects of the image formed by the public of the elements of national policies” (132).  They conclude that there is a variety of forces that determine vote choice, but partisanship is an antecedent to those forces. Their research illustrates that strong party identifiers tend to be more interested in politics. “The stronger the individual’s sense of attachment to one of the political parties, the greater his psychological involvement in political affairs” (143).  Additionally, “the individual who has a strong and continuing involvement in politics is more likely to develop a commitment to one or the other of the major parties” (144).

Chapter 7:

The authors examine the development of party identification. Early politicization of an individual seems to have a strong influence on party identification. The party of your parents seems to be a high determinate of you political party or lack of political party affiliation. Non-political or active homes tend to produce independent children, whereas homes with both Republican parents or both Democrat parents tends to produce Republican or Democratic children, respectively (147). More interestingly, voters who remember their first vote for president showed that 2/3rds still identified with that party they first voted for (148). Thus, they conclude that partisanship is stable over time.

However, two forces can cause a voter to jump ship and join the opposite party, they found: personal forces and social forces (149). Personal forces can change voter’s party identification when there is a change in their social milieu, such as a marriage to someone of the opposite party or moving to a neighborhood that is identifies more strongly with the opposite party. Campbell et. al. suggest that these forces can put pressure on the voter to re-align themselves with the opposite party. Social forces, on the other hand, create “cumulative changes” but don’t necessarily result in the redistribution of party strength (151). There are two types of social forces: those experiences associated with great national crises, and those associated with progress through the life cycle (151).

They conclude the chapter discussing youth and minority groups (i.e. Catholics, Jews, Blacks) and the party they are drawn to. Their research indicates that youth lean more Democrat as does minorities. But, with youth, they may, as they age, become more Republican whereas minorities, it appears, do not change party identification as they age, and this suggests that the Democratic Party may better promote social equality.

Application to field:

Their research is party of the social-psychological school. They used a funnel model to better understand vote choice. In this school of thought, party identification is seen as a rational tool for sorting through information. These two chapters make an argument that political parties have an influence on voters via social cues not only when it comes to the vote, but also on policy issues. An important question to keep in mind is: Were the findings of their research a product of the times or would similar results be found in more current studies? This research should be helpful for liberal consensus scholars, if indeed The American Voter is salient from generation to generation.


4 thoughts on “The American Voter, then.

  1. A classic. As so much political science has been built upon it, and even around it–I question the degree to which it is part of the liberal society consensus. Like, if it is indeed wholly part of that tradition (i.e. both American political parties are “liberal” parties), then I should have a lot of opportunity to study republicanism. Who are those independents, anyway?

  2. Pingback: Poltical Scientists: “I’m American” | Political Pipeline

  3. Pingback: Review for American Politics Comp. Exams | Political Pipeline

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