New Research on How Our Political Beliefs are Shaped by Party Leaders
Political scientists have long realized that there is a substantial "team effect" in politics, meaning that political party leaders have the power to shape the beliefs of their voters, even to dramatically alter their opinions. The theory is that many voters will change their views on specific issues to stay aligned with their party's message and remain part of the "team."
For instance, in the United States many researchers have been surprised by how easily Donald Trump altered the long-held views of Republican voters on issues such as trade, Russia, and relations with North Korea.
Professors Rune Slothuus and Martin Bisgaard of Aarhus University in Denmark have just published new research on the phenomenon in the American Journal of Political Science. They found that political party elites have a remarkable ability to impact the beliefs of their rank and file members, even on high-stakes policy issues.
AJPS: "How powerful are political parties in shaping citizens' opinions? Despite long‐standing interest in the flow of influence between partisan elites and citizens, few studies to date examine how citizens react when their party changes its position on a major issue in the real world. We present a rare quasi‐experimental panel study of how citizens responded when their political party suddenly reversed its position on two major and salient welfare issues in Denmark. With a five‐wave panel survey collected just around these two events, we show that citizens' policy opinions changed immediately and substantially when their party switched its policy position—even when the new position went against citizens' previously held views. These findings advance the current, largely experimental literature on partisan elite influence."
Their research was conducted in Denmark, but the authors see clear parallels to politics in America. And it does help to explain why Republicans in the age of Donald Trump aren't outraged by Russian meddling in our campaigns and have become the party of high tariffs and other restraints on international trade. It certainly isn't the party of Ronald Reagan anymore.
One of the most interesting aspects of this line of research is that it changes our views on representative democracy. The traditional view is that voters elect individuals that represent their interests and beliefs, but these findings show that it's actually a two-way street. Elected representatives are also shaping and reshaping the views of those that elected them.
By: Don Lam & Curated Content