Interrelationships among Attitudes and Orientations that Influence Voting Behavior

Evaluations of candidate personal characteristics, assessments of government performance, and orientations on public policy issues not only influence the vote — they also affect each other. Voters who hold conservative positions on key policy issues are not only more likely to agree with the issue positions of the Republican candidate; they also will be likely to have a favorable view of the personal characteristics of that candidate. Voters who feel that the incumbent president has not managed the economy well are likely to unfavorably evaluate many of the president's personal qualities, especially those regarding judgment and leadership. Although the attitudes and orientations identified above are conceptually distinct, they are empirically interrelated.

Moreover, these attitudes and orientations are shaped by party identification and ideological orientation. Party identification strongly affects how voters view and interpret political events and actions. Even opinions on items that might seem fairly factual in nature, such as how well the Obama administration managed the economy, are influenced by one's party identification. Similarly, ideological orientations and dispositions are likely to influence not only issue positions, but also perceptions of candidate characteristics and of government performance. Strong liberals in 2012 were more likely to think highly of Obama's personal qualities and more likely to think that he had done a good job of managing the economy. Strong conservatives were more likely to think just the opposite.

Finally, while party identification usually is viewed as influencing candidate evaluations, performance assessments, and issue orientations, these attitudes may also affect party identification, especially in the long run. For example, Democrats with conservative attitudes may become Republicans, something that has happened in the South in recent decades. Similarly, voters might shift their party loyalties because of their views of government performance, especially if they consistently see one party in a more favorable light. While party identification is fairly stable, it is not immutable — it can respond to other political attitudes.