Cognitive Resources and Resistance to Identity Change

Chapters 2 and 3 showed that partisans generate justifications in order to defend their party identity, and in Chapter 3 we saw that this requires cognitive resources. Democrats were able to successfully reprioritize their issue positions only in the absence of cognitive load. This chapter examines whether partisan stability is contingent on the availability of cognitive resources. If partisans are unable to defend their identity, they should feel compelled to change their party identification in response to disagreement with their party. In short, partisans who appear to be acting as good citizens may, in fact, just be exhausted fans.

The dual motivations theory is unique in making this prediction. The notion that individuals devote their cognitive resources to justification of their exiting identity runs directly counter to the two dominant theories in the contemporary debate over party identification. Revisionist models assume that citizens are motivated to identify with whichever party best represents their policy interests. Therefore, partisans should allocate their cognitive resources to updating their identity to reflect their issue positions and not to engaging in identity defense. Critics of the revisionist model suggest that party identification should remain stable regardless of whether cognitive resources are available (Green, Palmquist, & Schickler, 2002). According to this camp, partisans are unmotivated to resolve inconsistency between their party identity and their political evaluations, so identity defense is not necessary for the maintenance of stable party attachments.

The dual motivations theory argues that citizens want to believe that their party identity is rooted in objective political evaluations in order to conform to norms of good citizenship. Therefore, contrary to the claims of Green et al. (2002), partisans feel psychological pressure to bring their party identity into alignment with their political evaluations. However, updating their party identity to reflect disagreements with their party, as revisionist theory suggests, would mean acting against their partisan motivation. Therefore, the optimal strategy is to generate a justification for maintaining their existing identity despite their disagreements. This, however, requires cognitive resources. Consequently, party identification change should be most likely when an individual disagrees with her party but lacks cognitive resources.

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