Revisiting The Partisan Sort: How Identity Sorting Differs from Issue Sorting

Abstract: Prior work on partisan sorting struggles to explicate the relationship between sorting and polarization and muddles how policy attitudes and liberal-conservative ideology relate to partisanship. In this manuscript, I argue that a faithful depiction of sorting ought to not only reflect matching between ideology and partisanship, but the strength of those preferences—thereby contextualizing sorting within the larger conversation regarding mass polarization. While the average citizen may connect their ideological preferences to their partisan ones, these preferences rarely exhibit levels of extremity consistent with polarization. Further, unlike past research that combines sorting on attitudes and identities together, I demonstrate that partisan sorting is multifaceted. While identity and issue sorting are related, they constitute distinct constructs. In sum, I argue for a more nuanced view of sorting within the mass public.

Identity sorting and political compromise

Abstract: In this manuscript, I explore how the convergence between individuals’ partisan and ideological identities—sorting—affects their propensity to value compromise. I find that citizens with sorted identities are less likely to voice support for compromise, with one important caveat: this effect is isolated among those with right- but not left-leaning identities. These differences disappear, however, when respondents are queried about the specific extent to which one’s “side” deserves greater deference in the policymaking process. In this case, sorting drastically reduces the extent to which all individuals are willing to cede resources to one’s out-group—even for those persons who lack a consistent framework of political attitudes. In sum, this disconnect is emblematic of the tension between abstract principles and episodic behavior that scholars have observed regarding attitudes toward public goods. While some Americans idealize compromise as a core democratic value, sorting nevertheless reduces one’s propensity to accommodate out-group demands. 

Religion and partisan-ideological sorting, 1982-2014

Abstract: This manuscript explores how religious identity, practice, and their joint relationship affect whether individuals connect their ideological to partisan identities—a process termed partisan-ideological sorting. Using data from the American National Election Studies (ANES) Time-Series surveys, I find that religiosity constrains the convergence between citizens’ political identities, with one important caveat: religious identities, and, in particular, evangelical identities, function as the conduit through which religious practice and belief shapes this sorting. Building on these results, I conclude by leveraging the Youth-Parent Socialization (YPS) panel study to estimate the direct impact of religion on sorting over time within a cohort of Americans. Taken together, these findings contribute an alternative social explanation for sorting that complements extant institutional ones.

Elite polarization, group memberships, and sorting

Abstract: While scholars debate over the existence of mass polarization, most accept that the correlation between partisanship and ideology has increased in response to changes in elite polarization. This manuscript argues, however, that this logic is seriously flawed in two important ways. First, the type of polarization matters. Exposure to policy-based polarization has virtually no effect on the extent to which individuals’ political identities have converged; instead, symbolic elite cues are the primary antecedent of sorting. Second, because perceptions of elite cues are inherently shaped by group (partisan) memberships, I find that American citizens have not sorted because they think the political parties are diametrically opposed; rather, this sorting is almost wholly a function of perceptions of out-group extremity and dissimilarity. These results fundamentally reshape the logic of sorting, reinforcing the significance of both the in-group / out-group paradigm and the power of social identities.

Bureaucrats as voters: Explaining cross-national variation in preferences for public sector expansion
Joshua D. Potter
[manuscript]      [replication]

Relative to their private sector brethren, do bureaucrats vote for parties that promise to expand the public sector? Prior research indicates as much in the United States, but results are highly mixed in the comparative context. No prior research has theoretically accounted for cross-national variation in this relationship. Here, we focus on actual rhetoric in parties’ platforms aimed at expanding the public sector. Given the mutability of “left” and “right” labels across countries, we argue this is a more appropriate approach than the standard left-right dichotomy. We advance a collective action explanation for why bureaucrats differ from private employees in some countries, but not others. We fi nd that the size of public sector employment substantially mediates these individuals’ proclivity to identify as bureaucrats and, subsequently, cast ballots in line with that identity. We test our theory on more than 31,000 survey respondents from 51 elections across 25 countries.