Art+Politics+History+Culture

Trends in Party Identification

Research suggests that party identification plays a significant role in our lives, as important as religion and ethnicity. Party identification usually starts around childhood with parental, familial, and community influences, which begins shaping how people think and relate to political matters. It is as much a social identity as the music you listen to, the clothes you wear, the places you frequent, or the books you read. If any person examines their personal experiences, upbringing, and environment, they can most likely see a pattern of social influences and perhaps where they stand today. Back in college while doing an undergrad in political science, I learned about the political spectrum used to measure partisanship based  on a persons’ beliefs, therefore, I used to interview my friends to see where they faired. I would ask straightforward questions about capital punishment, religion, abortion, or gun control, then place them on the scale ranging from weak liberals to card-carrying conservatives. It was a great way to find out where my friends stood in regards to political matters without having to ask, and also to help the ones that hadn’t identified with a party see where they stood in the grand scheme of things.

According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, both the Democrats and Republicans have lost members respectively, while independents have grown in numbers with as many as 38% of Americans who were polled identifying as such. This is a positive number for anyone who believes that Democrats and Republicans have become too centrist or too similar, yet there hasn’t been a third party with as much influence or appeal to capture this disenfranchised group that can no longer support the double-headed dragon. Younger generations (Xers and Millennials) that have seen the deterioration in the health care system, exponential increases in college tuitions, endless wars, or who have seen their relatives lose their homes, businesses, or pension plans during the recession have become highly skeptical of government promises. So why don’t independent parties ever have a significant presence in the political process since that is where the trend is headed? Why are we so stuck with a two-party system still? In many European countries, the multi-party system has worked best because it gives people more options, yet we haven’t caught up to a more pluralistic form of governance that has alternatives.

In many parts of the country, it seems as if party identification has become somewhat blurred. If research has already proven that partisanship is related to social identity, then we can conclude that social groups and subcultures can also have some sort of party affiliation. Today, you can see a lot more people with visible tattoos on their bodies, which has historically been viewed negatively. Yet, with media and celebrity influences, it has become more commonplace and accepted as a cultural norm, with even conservative-types following the trend. Common themes in punk music are anarchy, revolution, and social critique, thus people in this subculture are typically extremely liberal. The same goes for mods, graffiti artists, taggers, and rockabillies, who by their very existence are involved in non-conformist behavior. Even gang members follow strict party lines by having ultra-conservative principles about capitalism, community, and religious beliefs, yet, their subversive behavior also makes them radical, unconventional, and sinister. So the trend in the United States is to become more independent and more liberal, especially amongst younger people, and it is also reflective in the new businesses popping up all over like clothing lines, restaurants, bars, microbreweries, tattoo parlors, and many others. Therefore, a sharp, charismatic leader, like a political strategist should create a new party that reflects the new values of the independent movement, unlike the outdated ones that cater to the aging population that has lost touch with the rest of us.

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