Published: June 19, 2020

By: Jennifer Wolak, University of Colorado Boulder

Published: 21 May 2019


Why do young people choose to identify with a political party? While existing accounts emphasize the importance of political socialization, we propose that young people’s self-perceptions also influence the adoption of partisan identities. Using survey data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, we show that self-esteem plays an important role in the development of partisanship among young people, where those with higher self-esteem are more likely to adopt a partisan identity than those with low self-esteem. Using responses from the 2012–2013 American National Election Study, we further show that the effects of self-esteem are concentrated among young adults, promoting the adoption of partisan identities during one’s impressionable years. By focusing on the inheritance of partisanship from one’s parents, scholars have underestimated the importance of young people’s traits in influencing the development of partisan identities.

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