Angus Campbell, Philip Converse, Warren Miller and Donald Stokes
The “fearsome foursome,” as they were called, from the University of Michigan Survey Research Center permanently etched into our political fabric in 1960 the sacred truths about the American voter. Their “funnel of causality” has withstood criticism from all types of hotshot political scientists. Nevertheless The American Voter (1960) remains as one of the most import works of political analysis. Its claims ring as true today as they did when first published.
The American Voter built on the behavioral research revolution. Modeled after Paul Lazarsfeld’s The People’s Choice (1948) and Samuel Stouffer’s The American Soldier (1949), these authors attempted to quantify the inner workings of the political mind. Using modern statistical methods The American Voter found much of the electorate apathetic. A coherent set of political beliefs was an exception and not the rule. These authors did find, however, “people who paid little attention to politics were contributing very disproportionately to partisan change.”
And how? Disproportionately voters cast their ballots on the basis of party identification.
In their “funnel of causality” the authors of The American Voter recognized that ultimately political decisions were made based upon attitudes toward the parties and the candidates. Membership in social groups, population movement and personality were important but less so. Issues mattered little. Voters were portrayed less as rational agents and more as conduits to exogenous factors. Voters in this study showed “a long term psychological attachment to a political party.”
The American Voter established party identification as the leading determinant of one’s voting behavior. Additionally these authors found that most voters stand pat with their party loyalties. Voters choose the same party over and over. This attachment, they argued, was largely affective. Choices based upon strict policy agreement were less common. Party loyalty goes up with age.
One need not be concerned that The American Voter was written over fifty years ago. Its basic claims appear as true today as they were in 1960. Though we may teach the demise of the political party and the rise of the independent voter party identification continues to be the wellspring of electoral victory.
The salience of Maurice Duverger’s research is apparent. Duverger found that the organization of most political parties is far more important than the ideology they espouse. Political parties provide labels and brands for young and old voters alike. If an affinity grows electoral success is soon to follow. Issues come and go. But as we learned in The American Voter issues rarely make the difference. Party identification has and always will be the most important determinant in our vote.