Partisanship, Social Identity, and American Government: Reality and Reflections

34 Pages Posted: 22 Dec 2017 Last revised: 29 Aug 2018

See all articles by Todd E. Pettys

Todd E. Pettys

University of Iowa - College of Law

Date Written: December 19, 2017


On the conventional account of American voter behavior, voters assess policy options in a range of areas, they develop preferences among those options, and then they bring those preferences to bear when casting their ballots on Election Day. In this symposium contribution, I begin by pointing out ways in which this conventional belief in a policy-driven electorate undergirds important constitutional doctrines in the areas of voting, speech, and federalism. I then examine the substantial body of evidence indicating that electoral behavior often has little to do with voters' autonomous evaluation of policy options, and has much to do with the belief- and behavior-shaping power of voters' social identifications, particularly those of a politically partisan variety. I close by reflecting on ways in which those of us who teach and write about the law might respond to this continually growing body of empirical work.

Keywords: partisan, partisanship, social identity, social identities, social identification, in group, out group, voter, democracy, federalism, republican, democrat, bias

JEL Classification: K10, K30, K40, K49

Suggested Citation

Pettys, Todd E., Partisanship, Social Identity, and American Government: Reality and Reflections (December 19, 2017). 22 Lewis & Clark Law Review 301, U Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2018-02, Available at SSRN:

Todd E. Pettys (Contact Author)

University of Iowa - College of Law ( email )

Melrose and Byington
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States
319-335-6814 (Phone)
319-335-9098 (Fax)

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