Party influence where predispositions are strong and party identification is weak: Assessing citizens’ reactions to party cues on regional nationalism in Spain

By Eric Guntermann, Postdoctoral researcher at the Research Chair in Electoral Studies and research coordinator for Making Electoral Democracy Work

 

Do parties influence opinions on nationalism in Spain?

Numerous studies have shown that parties influence opinions, especially in the US (e.g. Cohen, 2003; Druckman et al., 2013; Kam, 2005). It is unclear, however, whether such influence occurs in other contexts where party identification is less common and where multi-party systems are the norm. Moreover, it is not clear what kinds of issue opinions parties can influence. The existing literature suggests that opinions that are rooted in predispositions are resistant to party influence (Tesler, 2015).

In this recent publication, I show that parties influence opinions on regional nationalism in Spain, even though most people lack a party identification there and even though nationalism is rooted in identity. I argue that, when confronted by conflict between a party they like and a party they dislike, citizens adopt the position of the side they prefer regardless of whether they identify with it. Moreover, parties can influence opinions on nationalism, because many people in nationalist contexts have ambivalent identities, both with the region and with the country.

Study 1: Laboratory experiment in Catalonia

In May 2016, I recruited 113 participants for a lab experiment in Barcelona. I presented each participant two positions their preferred party has that they do not share as well as the contrasting positions of a party they dislike. While participants in the control group simply read statements that were attributed to “some politicians”, those in the treatment group were clearly associated with the relevant parties. As the figure shows, I found that those in the treatment group became more than one point (on a scale from 0 to 10) more supportive of their party’s position than those in the control group. However, they did not change their ratings of either their preferred or disliked parties.

 

Figure: Changes in issue opinions and in evaluations of preferred and disliked parties

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Study 2: Survey experiment in Galicia

A few weeks later, I recruited a representative sample of 600 respondents in Galicia. I showed them party positions on two issues: whether Galicia is a nation and whether Galicia has a right to self-determination. The order of these issues was randomized across respondents. On the first issue, participants read their preferred party’s position. On the second issue respondents read about, they saw that position along with the contrasting position of a party they dislike. As in Study 1, respondents in the control group read positions that were attributed to anonymous politicians, while those in the treatment group read statements that were clearly associated with parties.

 

I found that the treatment-group respondents reported opinions that were closer to their preferred party’s position on the second issue on which they read contrasting cues. Cues from a preferred party alone only influenced opinions among participants who identified with that party. Influence was strongest on the issue of whether Galicia is a nation and among participants who identify with both Galicia and Spain.

 

In short, party influence extends to opinions on an issue that is rooted in identities despite the weakness of party identification.

 

For more details, see Eric Guntermann. Party influence where predispositions are strong and party identification is weak: Assessing citizens’ reactions to party cues on regional nationalism in Spain. Party Politics. DOI: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1354068817736756

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