In politics, as in sports, loyalty is imperative once a person declares his or her allegiance to a team. True devotees hate “fair-weather fans.” If you grew up on the North Side of Chicago, you probably root for the Cubs—as your parents did before you and your children will after you—despite the Cubs' century- long losing streak. Fans may admit that rival teams possess more attractive qualities (exciting players, a more stimulating style of play, greater physical or mental toughness), but team loyalties tend not to be rooted in these types of evaluations. Instead, fans' allegiances develop out of regional, cultural, and familial traditions.
At the end of every season, frustrated fans of teams such as the Chicago Cubs feel like giving up on their franchise. They feel as though they simply cannot bear the pain of supporting such an awful team for another year. But the next season, when springtime rolls around, they find themselves right back in the stands cheering for their team and hoping once more that this might be their year. When it comes down to it, they simply cannot bring themselves to root for someone else. They grew up as fans of the team and they will probably always root for their team, because it is part of who they are. When they don their sweat-stained Cubs cap, they feel a connection to their family, their community, and the generations of Cubs fans who suffered before them. When the team occasionally wins a game, it feels like a personal victory, and when they lose a game, it feels like a personal loss. The team's embarrassments are their embarrassments, and when they discuss sports with others, they refer to the team as “we,” as in “We lost again.”
Readers familiar with identity research may recognize these attributes. To refer to one's group as “we,” to feel wins and losses for one's group as wins and losses for the self, and to experience group embarrassments as personal embarrassments are all tell-tale signs of social identification (Greene, 1999).
In other words, part of a fan's identity is wrapped up in his or her sense of association with the team. Even if fans evaluate rival teams more positively than their own, their team identity is part of who they are, for better or worse.
Like identification with a sports team, identification with a political party entails much more than being fond of or agreeing with a party. It means seeing one's self as a Republican or a Democrat. Although the concepts of attitude and identity are often used interchangeably in the political science literature, attitudes toward parties are nonetheless conceptually distinct from identification with a party (Green, Palmquist, & Schickler, 2002; Groenendyk, 2012; Rosema, 2006). Whereas attitudes are evaluative in nature (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993), identities are rooted in self-conceptualization (Monroe, Hankin, & Vechten, 2000).1 In short, an important distinction exists between liking and being. In fact, this was the reason for conceptualizing partisanship as an identity in the first place (see Campbell, Converse, Miller, & Stokes, 1960; Campbell, Gurin, & Miller, 1954).
I n characterizing the relation of individual to party as a psychological identification we invoke a concept that has played an important if somewhat varied role in psychological theories of the relation of individual to individual or of individual to group. We use the concept here to characterize the individual's affective orientation to an important group object in his environment.... We have not measured party attachments in terms of the vote or evaluation of partisan issues because we are interested in exploring the influence of party identification on voting behavior and its immediate determinants. When an independent measure of party identification is used it is clear that even strong party adherents at times may think and act in contradiction to their party allegiance (Campbell et al., 1960, pp. 122-123).
The distinction between attitude and identity plays out in important ways as we observe public opinion and political behavior. Being part of one's selfconcept, an identity is something one is motivated to defend. Like our sports team loyalties, we tend to inherit our party identities from our families and our communities, and party images are often interwoven with our understanding of local culture and history. For many years, being a “true Southerner” meant being a Democrat, almost regardless of one's issue positions, and this is only one of numerous examples in which regional, cultural, racial, religious, and occupational identities have become entwined with party identification. Because party identity has such deep roots, change does not come easily. Like
the sports fans described earlier, partisans may find that their political attitudes increasingly conflict with their identity, yet they continue to feel the pull of their party. Whether this pull is sufficient to compel continued loyalty depends on the strength of one's competing motives.