This introductory chapter provides a background of party identification. The reality of American politics is not the same as it was a half century ago. American politics at the elite level has, in a word, polarized. Republican means conservative; Democrat means liberal. During the same period of time, voters' party identifications have become aligned with the ideological outlook of their parties. The largest number of Democrat supporters identify themselves as liberal; a still larger number of Republican supporters identify themselves as conservative. A result of this process is that the very same commitment that used to signal unthinking loyalty—party identification—has become the basis for coherently thinking about politics for a large number of voters. The specific purpose of this study is to propose a new theory of party identification—a reputational theory of party identification.
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