Political Orientations and the Influences of Cohort Membership and Time: Patterns of Change in Tolerance, Confidence, and the Strength of Party Affiliation

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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civil liberties
Demography, Population, and Ecology
Mass Communication
Political Science
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Lei-Lee, Chien Joanna

Seeking to better understand inter-generational continuity of political orientations, this study investigates the relationships among three archetypes of political orientations (tolerance of nonconformists, confidence in people running institutions and the strength of party affiliation) and enduring versus contemporaneous forces. Birth cohort membership and education are selected to represent the former and the time of survey and media use the latter. Three fundamentals of the present study differ from most prior research in this tradition: First, instead of focusing on different effect models, this study seeks to establish a conceptual structure among outcome variables. Second, the inter-generational continuity is assumed to be cohort-generational rather than lineage-generational. Third, it employs a year-cohort matrix rather than a standard cohort table as the central analytical scheme. Using the NORC General Social Surveys (1972-1993), the study tracks eight birth cohorts across twenty-two years to discern change patterns over time. Overall three archetypes and a sub-type emerged from the data. The two tolerance scales and five individual indicators are overwhelmingly affected by enduring forces of one's birth cohort membership and education. Once formed, these orientations remain relatively stable through life. The patterns found among two confidence scales and six confidence indicators are those of a sweeping time effect. Cohorts' confidence levels are closely "bunched together" and fluctuate from year to year. The strength of party affiliation represents a third archetype, in that we suspect the basic partisanship is fixed by formative experiences but the specific action of affiliating with either party is incited by environmental cues. The resulting change pattern is one of unsynchronized waves. The researcher found a fourth sub-type in confidence in the Supreme Court where enduring forces dictate the responses in the absence of significant contemporaneous forces. Education is reconfirmed as a quintessential force to be reckoned with when one studies political orientations. Large effects of education are found among all four types of variables, though the mechanism via which education affects each may differ.

Charles Wright
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