Do we choose our political party or does our political party choose us? It’s complicated. The party system is supposed to give us an easy way to pick candidates with whom our values mostly align. While the blind adherence to a particular party ideology has been rightfully criticized, political parties make it so that we don’t have to thoroughly research every single candidate in every single election in which we vote. Did you know all the names on your ballot last November? Neither did I, and I think therein lies the use of this system. However, the political parties have become more than a set of stances on how to best govern the nation. They have become distinct cultures unto themselves.
Think about it. It’s not hard to stereotype people based on their political affiliation. Liberals like indie music and art house films. Conservatives like country music and hunting. In the same vein, certain preferences lead to assumptions regarding political affiliation. This stereotyping is inherently dangerous, as it makes us see each other not as individuals but as members of a political party. It creates a sense of otherness where the two parties are no longer on the same team working for the benefit of the country but rather fighting each other. But it brings up an interesting question: Are people who subscribe to a certain culture more likely to affiliate with a certain party, or does our choice in party dictate the type of culture in which we live? I really don’t have an answer, but with the widening political rift, I think it’s worth discussing.
The easiest way to predict a person’s political affiliation is to look at that of their parents. According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2005, 71 percent of teenagers share the same political views as their parents. This makes sense. If you grow up hearing the same things over and over again, it stands to reason that at one point, you may start to believe them. However, parents also determine the type of culture in which you grow up. I personally think that this may be more impactful than the simple indoctrination idea that points to a certain determinism in political affiliation.
Another way identity and partisanship may be intertwined are the age at which you develop your political beliefs. According to Stanford Children’s Health, people begin to develop their political ideologies during late adolescence — the same age that many develop senses of identity and begin to search for their place in the world. Consequently, political affiliation may become as integrated into one’s sense of self as much as, or perhaps even more, than other aspects of identity. Communities also often form on the basis of political beliefs that adopt their own cultural customs and norms. In this way, culture and political party become indelibly linked in a sort of positive feedback loop.
While the cultural aspects of political partisanship may be useful to foster a sense of political community, I fear that it sometimes leads us to take on a cliquey “on Wednesday we wear pink” attitude as many strive to be “good” liberals or “good” conservatives, not just in their political stances, but also in their ways of life. So while political parties and their respective communities can be useful to an extent, it is important not to allow them to infringe upon individual liberties.