Political Party Identification & Membership

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  • 0:01 Political Parties
  • 1:21 Party Identification
  • 3:22 Factors Influencing…
  • 5:58 Independent Voters
  • 7:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley has a JD degree and is an attorney. She has taught and written various law courses.

There are many different factors that can influence a person's political values and that person's political party identification. This lesson discusses political party identification and membership.

Political Parties

What's your political party affiliation? Are you a Democrat? A Republican? An independent? Why? A political party is an association of people who generally agree on certain political issues and work together to win elections and influence government. In the U.S., we have two major political parties:

  • The Democratic Party is known to be politically liberal. In general, Democrats believe America is responsible for certain economic, social and political injustices and, therefore, has the responsibility to correct unfairness using government action. Dolly is a Democrat.
  • The Republican Party is known to be politically conservative. In general, Republicans believe America's long-standing principles, traditions and institutions should be maintained because they've afforded more freedom and prosperity than any other society in history. Rick is a Republican.

The different political parties vie for political power. When a party wins an election, that party wins the power to put its political philosophies and policies into effect.

Party Identification

Most voters identify themselves with one of the two major political parties. Over 98% of the voters in the 2012 presidential election voted for one of the two major party candidates.

People can identify themselves with a political party in a number of ways. For example, Dolly never formally registered as a Democrat. She's never paid membership dues or joined a party organization. However, she agrees with Democratic Party philosophies and almost always votes for the Democratic candidate. She self-identifies as a Democrat. Rick, on the other hand, officially joined his local chapter of the Republican Party. He pays membership dues and received a membership card. He even attends local meetings.

There are other ways people can identify themselves with a party, too. In some states, people are asked to choose a political party when they register to vote. For example, let's say Dana chooses to register as a Democrat when she registers to vote. She can later change this affiliation if she changes her mind. However, in the meantime, this usually means that she's only allowed to vote in the Democratic primaries.

In other states, voters can identify themselves with a political party by voting in that party's primary election. In these states, voters aren't required to affiliate with a particular party before the primary. For example, let's say Ernie picks a candidate he likes in his governor's race. That candidate is a Republican, so Ernie chooses to vote in the Republican primary election. Just note that Ernie can only vote in one primary. He can't also vote in the Democratic primary that year.

Factors Influencing Identification

Now let's take a look at some of the factors that influence party identification. Party identification mostly occurs through political socialization. This type of socialization is the process by which people form their ideas about politics. Typically, family is the most important influence on political party identification. In fact, around 70% of voters adopt the same party affiliation as their parents. Studies show that kids and young adults often acquire liberal or conservative beliefs based on the behaviors and attitudes of their parents, grandparents or other key adult figures in their lives. If Rick's parents are Republican, then it's no wonder he identifies himself as Republican.

This concept is closely related to the influence a voter's upbringing and socialization have on his or her party affiliation. Socialization includes the political culture of a voter's family, neighborhood or even region. Political culture refers to the system of general political traditions, customs and beliefs. For example, our west coast states are known for supporting liberal political philosophies and have carried the Democratic presidential candidate in the past four elections. Dolly grew up on the west coast, so she was more likely to adopt the liberal political beliefs of that region's culture than those voters who grew up in the conservative Northeast.

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