Skip to main content Accesibility Help

Does Party Trump Ideology? Disentangling Party and Ideology in America


Are people conservative (liberal) because they are Republicans (Democrats)? Or is it the reverse: people are Republicans (Democrats) because they are conservatives (liberals)? Though much has been said about this long-standing question, it is difficult to test because the concepts are nearly impossible to disentangle in modern America. Ideology and partisanship are highly correlated, only growing more so over time. However, the election of President Trump presents a unique opportunity to disentangle party attachment from ideological commitment. Using a research design that employs actual “conservative” and “liberal” policy statements from President Trump, we find that low-knowledge respondents, strong Republicans, Trump-approving respondents, and self-described conservatives are the most likely to behave like party loyalists by accepting the Trump cue—in either a liberal or conservative direction. These results suggest that there are a large number of party loyalists in the United States, that their claims to being a self-defined conservative are suspect, and that group loyalty is the stronger motivator of opinion than are any ideological principles.

Corresponding author
*Michael Barber, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Brigham Young University,
Jeremy C. Pope, Associate Professor of Political Science and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, Brigham Young University,
Hide All

We are grateful to BYU and The Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy for funding this research. We would also like to thank John Holbein and Jay Goodliffe for commenting on early drafts of the paper. Replication materials can be found on Dataverse at:

Hide All
Abramowitz, Alan I., and Webster, Steven. 2016. “The Rise of Negative Partisanship and the Nationalization of U.S. Elections in the 21st Century.” Electoral Studies 41 (1): 12–22.
Achen, Christopher H., and Bartels, Larry M.. 2016. Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Ahler, Douglas, and Broockman, David. 2018. “The Delegate Paradox: Why Polarized Politicians Can Represent Citizens Best.” The Journal of Politics 80 (4): 1117–33.
Ansolabehere, Stephen, Rodden, Jonathan, and Snyder, James M.. 2008. “The Strength of Issues: Using Multiple Measures to Gauge Preference Stability, Ideological Constraint, and Issue Voting.” American Political Science Review 102 (2): 215–32.
Asch, Solomon E. 1952. Social Psychology. New York: Prentice Hall.
Bafumi, Joseph, and Herron, Michael C.. 2010. “Leapfrog Representation and Extremism: A Study of American Voters and Their Members in Congress.” American Political Science Review 104 (3): 519–42.
Bartels, Larry M. 2000. “Partisanship and Voting Behavior, 1952–1996.” American Journal of Political Science 44 (1): 35–50.
Bawn, Kathleen, Cohen, Martin, Masket, Seth, Noel, Hans, and Zaller, John. 2012. “A Theory of Political Parties: Groups, Policy Demands and Nominations in American Politics.” Perspectives on Politics 10 (3): 571–97.
Bolsen, Toby, Druckman, James N., and Cook, Fay Lomax. 2014. “The Influence of Partisan Motivated Reasoning on Public Opinion.” Political Behavior 36 (2): 235–62.
Box-Steffensmeier, Janet M., and De Boef, Suzanna. 2001. “Macropartisanship and Macroideology in the Sophisticated Electorate.” The Journal of Politics 63 (1): 232–48.
Brody, Richard A., and Page, Benjamin I.. 1972. “Comment: The Assessment of Policy Voting.” American Political Science Review 66: 450–58.
Broockman, David E. 2016. “Approaches to Studying Policy Representation.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 41 (1): 181–215.
Broockman, David E., and Butler, Daniel M.. 2017. “The Causal Effects of Elite Position-Taking on Voter Attitudes: Field Experiments with Elite Communication.” American Journal of Political Science 61 (1): 208–21.
Bullock, John G. 2011. “Elite Influence on Public Opinion in an Informed Electorate.” American Political Science Review 105 (3): 397–409.
Campbell, Angus, Converse, Philip E., Miller, Warren E., and Stokes, Donald E.. 1960. The American Voter. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Clinton, Joshua, Jackman, Simon, and Rivers, Douglas. 2004. “The Statistical Analysis of Roll Call Data.” American Political Science Review 98 (2): 355–70.
Cohen, Geoffrey L. 2003. “Party Over Policy: The Dominating Impact of Group Influence on Political Beliefs.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 85 (5): 808–22.
Conover, Pamela Johnston, and Feldman, Stanley. 1981. “The Origins and Meaning of Liberal/Conservative Self-Identifications.” American Journal of Political Science 25 (4): 617–45.
Converse, Philip. 1964. “The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics.” In Ideology and Discontent, ed. E. Apter, David. New York: The Free Press of Glencoe, 206–61.
Dimock, Michael, Kiley, Jocelyn, Keeter, Scott, and Doherty, Carroll. 2014. Political Polarization in the American Public. Washington, DC: Technical report Pew Research Center.
Druckman, James N., Peterson, Erik, and Slothuus, Rune. 2013. “How Elite Partisan Polarization Affects Public Opinion Formation.” American Political Science Review 107 (1): 57–79.
Ellis, Christopher, and Stimson, James A.. 2012. Ideology in America. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Fiorina, Morris P., Abrams, Samuel J., and Pope, Jeremy C.. 2004. Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America. New York: Pearson.
Freeder, Sean, Lenz, Gabriel S., and Turney, Shad. 2018. “The Importance of Knowing ‘What Goes with What’.” The Journal of Politics. Published online September 26, 2018.
Green, Donald, Palmquist, Bradley, and Schickler, Erick. 2004. Partisan Hearts and Minds: Political Parties and the Social Identities of Voters. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Greene, Steven. 1999. “Understanding Party Identification: A Social Identity Approach.” Political Psychology 20 (2): 393–403.
Grossmann, Matt, and Hopkins, David A.. 2016. Asymmetric Politics: Ideological Republicans and Group Interest Democrats. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hill, Seth J., and Tausanovitch, Chris. 2015. “A Disconnect in Representation? Comparison of Trends in Congressional and Public Polarization.” The Journal of Politics 77 (4): 1058–75.
Hill, Seth J., and Huber, Gregory A.. 2018. “On the Meaning of Survey Reports of Roll Call Votes Not Cast in a Legislature.” American Journal of Political Science. Forthcoming.
Huber, Gregory A., and Malhotra, Neil. 2017. “Political Homophily in Social Relationships: Evidence from Online Dating Behavior.” The Journal of Politics 79 (1): 269–83.
Iyengar, Shanto, Sood, Gaurav, and Lelkes, Yphatch. 2012. “Affect, Not Ideology: A Social Identity Perspective on Polarization.” Public Opinion Quarterly 76 (3): 405–31.
Iyengar, Shanto, and Westwood, Sean J.. 2015. “Fear and Loathing across Party Lines: New Evidence on Group Polarization.” American Journal of Political Science 59 (3): 690–707.
Jacobson, Gary C. 2013. “Partisan Polarization in American Politics: A Background Paper.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 43 (4): 688–708.
Jacoby, William G. 1991. “Ideological Identification and Issue Attitudes.” American Journal of Political Science 35: 178–205.
Jacoby, William G. 2000. “Issue Framing and Government Spending.” American Journal of Political Science 44: 750–67.
Jessee, Stephen A. 2012. Ideology and Spatial Voting in American Elections. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Kam, Cindy D., and Trussler, Marc J.. 2017. “At the Nexus of Observational and Experimental Research: Theory, Specification, and Analysis of Experiments with Heterogeneous Treatment Effects.” Political Behavior 39 (4): 789–815.
Kinder, Donald R., and Kalmoe, Nathan P.. 2017. Neither liberal Nor Conservative: Ideological Innocence in the American Public. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Knight, Kathleen. 1985. “Ideology in the 1980 Election: Ideological Sophistication Does Matter.” The Journal of Politics 47 (3): 828–53.
Kuklinski, James H., and Hurley, Norman L.. 1994. “On Hearing and Interpreting Political Messages: A Cautionary Tale of Citizen Cue-Taking.” The Journal of Politics 56 (3): 729–51.
Layman, Geoffrey C., and Carsey, Thomas M.. 2002. “Party Polarization and ‘Conflict Extension’ in the American Electorate.” American Journal of Political Science 46 (4): 786–802.
Lenz, Gabriel S. 2012. Follow the Leader? How Voters Respond to Politicians’ Policies and Performance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Levendusky, Matthew S. 2009. The Partisan Sort: How Liberals Became Democrats and Conservatives Became Republicans. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Levitin, Teresa E., and Miller, Warren E.. 1979. “Ideological Interpretations of Presidential Elections.” American Political Science Review 73 (3): 751–71.
Lewis-Beck, Michael S., Nadeau, Richard, and Elias, Angelo. 2008. “Economics, Party, and the Vote: Causality Issues and Panel Data.” American Journal of Political Science 52 (1): 84–95.
Lupia, Arthur. 1994. “Shortcuts versus Encyclopedias: Information and Voting Behavior in California Insurance Reform Elections.” American Political Science Review 88 (1): 63–76.
Lupton, Robert N., Myers, William M., and Thornton, Judd R.. 2015. “Political Sophistication and the Dimensionality of Elite and Mass Attitudes, 1980–2004.” The Journal of Politics 77 (2): 368–80.
Markus, Gregory B., and Converse, Philip E.. 1979. “A Dynamic Simultaneous Equation Model of Electoral Choice.” American Political Science Review 79 (4): 1055–70.
Mason, Lilliana. 2015. Party Polarization Is Making Us More Prejudiced. In Political Polarization in American Politics, eds. Hopkins, Daniel J. and Sides, John. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 55–60.
Mummolo, Jonathan, and Nall, Clayton. 2017. “Why Partisans Don’t Sort: How Quality and Resource Constraints Prevent Political Segregation.” The Journal of Politics 79 (1): 45–59.
Nicholson, Stephen P. 2012. “Polarizing Cues.” American Journal of Political Science 56 (1): 52–66.
Noel, Hans. 2013. Political Ideologies and Political Parties in America. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Page, Benjamin I., and Jones, Calvin C.. 1979. “Reciprocal Effects of Policy Preferences, Party Loyalties and the Vote.” American Political Science Review 73 (4): 1071–89.
Rahn, Wendy M. 1993. “The Role of Partisan Stereotypes in Information Processing about Political Candidates.” American Journal of Political Science 37 (2): 472–96.
Rudolph, Thomas J., and Evans, Jillian. 2005. “Political Trust, Ideology, and Public Support for Government Spending.” American Journal of Political Science 49 (3): 660–771.
Stimson, James A. 1975. “Belief Systems: Constraint, Complexity, and the 1972 Election.” American Journal of Political Science 19 (3): 393–417.
Tajfel, Henri. 1981. Human Groups and Social Categories: Studies in Social Psychology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Zaller, John, and Feldman, Stanley. 1992. “A Simple Theory of the Survey Response: Answering Questions versus Revealing Preferences.” American Journal of Political Science 36 (3): 579–616.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Barber and Pope Dataset

Supplementary materials

Barber and Pope supplementary material
Barber and Pope supplementary material 1

 PDF (5.4 MB)
5.4 MB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed