Quality & Quantity 33: 27–44, 1999.
© 1999 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Untangling Political Ideology and Party
Identiﬁcation in the United States
ROBERT B. SMITH
Social Structural Research, 3 Newport Road, Suite 6, Cambridge, MA 02140, U.S.A.
Abstract. By analyzing an election night survey of voters in the 1992 U.S. Presidential election,
this article explicates the meaning, relationships, and effects on vote of ideological self-designation
(liberal, centrist, conservative) and party identiﬁcation (Democrat, Independent, Republican). In ad-
dition to concern about a candidate’s character, different interests about governmental interventions
designed to augment economic equity, social equality, and the public’s health interpret the meaning
of these categories. Using seven social attributes as instruments, a two-stage least-squares analysis
and a sensitivity analysis suggest that ideology has a stable net direct effect on party identiﬁcation.
The effect of party identiﬁcation on ideology is negligible. Concern about a candidate’s character
and public health interests strongly interpret the effect of ideology on party identiﬁcation; the effects
of interests concerning equity and rights are not as strong. Because the social attributes explain very
little variance in vote, whereas more malleable variables – ideology and party identiﬁcation – have
very strong effects, electoral choices now tend to be more changeable than in the past.
Key words: electoral voting, political ideology, political party identiﬁcation, new political con-
tinuum, sensitivity analysis, causal inference.
To clarify the process of voters’ decision-making in recent presidential elections
in the United States, this article aims to disentangle the causal relationships that
connect political ideology and party identiﬁcation with each other and with votes.
In The New American Voter Miller and Shanks signal the need for such explication.
They state (1996: 292): “Pending a deﬁnitive resolution of the interplay between
party and ideology in the voters’ decision-making process, . . . we cannot, at this
point, determine the extent to which either should be adjusted, nor can we disen-
tangle the causal relationships that connect the variables to each other or to the
several other predispositions we placed in the same stage”.
This article thus asks: What are the contemporary meanings, deﬁned by political
interests, of self-designated political ideology (liberal, centrist, and conservative)
and party identiﬁcation (Democrat, Independent, and Republican)? How are ideol-
ogy and party identiﬁcation interrelated – which variable causes the other? How do
these predispositions inﬂuence vote?